$20 Million Grant Award for DNA-Based Ocean Monitoring

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The Associated Press, Mainebiz,Penobscot Bay Pilot and The Lincoln County News reported the University of Maine and The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will use a $20 million National Science Foundation grant to learn more about Maine’s aquatic ecosystems. Maine Public interviewed Michael Kinnison, an associate professor of marine sciences at UMaine and the project’s lead researcher, about the initiative. Maine Environmental DNA, or Maine-eDNA, is a five-year project that will analyze samples from Maine’s waterways to look for genetic traces left behind by plants and animals, according to the reports. Kinnison told Maine Public that environmental DNA will be collected with forensic-like genetic tools. “And by capturing that DNA information that’s available in those different sources, we can start to get a big picture of the types of organisms in those habitats, how they’re interacting, and use that to hopefully improve our understanding and the sustainability of coastal systems, particularly here in Maine,” said Kinnison. “Environmental DNA allows us to capture a snapshot of a community, or to even detect rare species, maybe endangered species, or invasive species that would be otherwise very difficult for us to track down and monitor directly.” Advances in genetic sequencing technologies have allowed researchers to identify DNA at a more specific level that can enable researchers to create that big picture view of an ecosystem, according to Kinnison. And the project provides opportunities for citizen science, because almost anyone can collect a water sample. “Our hope really is that whether you’re a school group going out to sample your local lake, or you’re aquaculturists raising oysters, the data and samples that they collect can become ultimately combined,” said Kinnison. “And by combining this resource from all these different groups, we can then really start engaging in big data analysis to ask questions about the stability and resilience across the whole coast of Maine.” Portland Press Herald, U.S. News & World Report and carried the AP report. The Maine Edge published a UMaine news release on the grant, and The Ellsworth American and The Free Press published a Bigelow Laboratory news release about the grant.

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