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Bug Soup

August 23, 2013

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

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

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.

HIRSHON:
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.