Aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA)


Since ever fishers, children, and scientists have dreamed of sampling the oceans’ free-ranging animals without the need to capture or even observe them red-handed. We stand on the beach or a boat and dream of wearing magic goggles that allow us to know the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life.

About 20 years ago, researchers glimpsed the realization of the dream, when they appreciated that animals shed DNA in aquatic environments, and that studies of these genetic fragments, known as environmental or eDNA, might provide the evidence from which we could conjure accurate, timely descriptions of marine life. 

Beginning in 2015, we have tested this emerging technology in more than 700 samples from marine and freshwater environments, many from waters around New York City.  In 2017 we demonstrated eDNA from 1 liter water samples was sufficient to detect seasonal movements and habitat preference of fish in New York Harbor. In 2018, we hosted the first US National Conference on Marine eDNA. Our eDNA work includes new methods aimed at encouraging high school student participation and detection of overlooked subtropical fish in coastal New Jersey. In 2020 we published the first large-scale comparison of eDNA with a traditional trawl survey. With support from NOAA, our current efforts aim to improve accessibility, affordability, and reliability of core methods in marine eDNA metabarcoding. Link to our work is here.

Publications about Aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA)

Alan Curry and Jesse H. Ausubel. Liesl Hotaling and Richard W. Spinrad. Biological information for the new blue economy and the emerging role of eDNA (PDF). Preparing a Workforce for the New Blue Economy: People, Products, and Policies Elsevier: 249-258 2021 aquatic eDNA

Jesse H. Ausubel and Alan Curry. How eDNA Could be a Cornerstone of the New Blue Economy (PDF). Maritime Executive 2021

DS Thaler and TP Sakmar. Archiving time series sewage samples as biological records of built environments [external link]. BMC Infectious Diseases 21 (601): 2021

MY Stoeckle, MD Mishu and Z Charlop-Powers. Improved Environmental DNA Reference Library Detects Overlooked Marine Fishes in New Jersey, United State [external link]. Frontiers in Marine Science 7 (226): 2020 edna

MY Stoeckle, J Adolf, Z Charlop-Powers, K Dunton, G Hinks, SM VanMorter. Trawl and eDNA assessment of marine fish diversity, seasonality, and relative abundance in coastal New Jersey, USA. [external link]. ICES J Marine Sci ...: doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsaa225 2020

JH Ausubel, MY Stoeckle, PG Gaffney II. Final Report, First National Conference on Marine Environmental DNA (PDF). 2019

JH Ausubel, MY Stoeckle. The eDNA Revolution (PDF). Sea Technology : 2019

MY Stoeckle , MD Mishu, Z Charlop-Powers. GoFish: A versatile nested PCR strategy for environmental DNA assays for marine vertebrates [external link]. Plos One 2018

MY Stoeckle, L Soboleva, Z Charlop-Powers. Aquatic environmental DNA detects seasonal fish abundance and habitat preference in an urban estuary [external link]. PLoS ONE 12 (4): 2017 e0175186.

MS Stoeckle. Fishing for DNA: Free-floating eDNA identifies presence and abundance of ocean life [external link]. The Conversation 2017