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Bug Soup

August 23, 2013

Mashed-up mixtures of bugs may be a useful indicator of changes in biodiversity.



Bug mash-ups. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Image: Bugboy52.40/Wikipedia

Ecosystems can change dramatically before it’s obvious to people. To spot changes early, researchers sometimes painstakingly trap and monitor a few local species. Now, researchers like tropical ecologist Douglas Yu of the University of East Anglia in England, are developing a quick and dirty alternative. They collect thousands of bugs at a particular location, blend them into a soupy mixture, and extract telltale bits of DNA from the soup. Yu says that’s not only faster and cheaper, but also relatively hands-off and automated.

DOUGLAS YU (University of East Anglia, England):
It could be a sort of standard, regular thing like water quality sampling, which is what you need to run these things generally in society.

He says the technique can even track bits of DNA from plants or larger animals – which can be left, for example, in the surrounding soil, or in the bodies of insects that bite them. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.