Portable DNA device could detect invasive species

Tuesday, 03 September, 2019

Portable DNA device could detect invasive species

A new smartphone-sized technology that can quickly sequence DNA is being tested for its early warning potential to detect invasive species. Known as ‘MinION’ and developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, the portable device can sequence ‘or scan’ millions of DNA codes in minutes, compared to current lab-based systems which can take a couple of days to get the same answers.

The tests are part of a project that has been funded by the Department of Agriculture via the Biosecurity Innovation Program through the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS). It is being led by the EcoDNA research team at the University of Canberra (UC).

“While it is early days and we have a lot of testing to do, the technology has the ability to back up visual results,” said UC wildlife geneticist Professor Di Gleeson, who leads the CISS environmental DNA (eDNA) innovation hub.

“For example, if you think you see an invasive fish or reptile in a waterway and want to validate, you can take a small water sample, place it into the portable device and it will analyse for the presence or absence of DNA based on the rigorous research protocols we have developed.

“We are aiming to make the invisible visible, through fast, effective and ultimately cheaper technology.”

UC Research Fellow Dr Alejandro Trujillo-Gonzalez, who is part of the EcoDNA team, said the new technology could find that “needle in a haystack”, stating that it offers “a versatile, easy-to-use method to detect multiple pest species and unwanted pathogenic hitchhikers being unknowingly imported into Australia”.

He added, “The technology works and now we are trying to validate the protocols to make sure it can work effectively for Australian biosecurity purposes.”

Dr Trujillo-Gonzalez revealed that the ecoDNA team has also formed an international collaboration with Thailand’s Kasetsart University to collect samples from water used to maintain and transport aquarium fishes from wholesalers in exporting countries, so they can test which techniques and technology are suitable for Australian biosecurity requirements.

“Ultimately, our project aims to develop single- and multi-species assays to detect priority risk species (like pests and diseases) and lay foundations for the development of a national reference eDNA laboratory, enhancing our biosecurity surveillance systems,” Dr Trujillo-Gonzalez said.

Image caption: Dr Alejandro Trujillo-Gonzalez trials the MinION device.

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