Comprehensive practical guide for DNA-based methods published


Collection of environmental samples from water for DNA analysis.


DNA-based methods are game changers for biodiversity assessment. The guide “A practical guide to DNA-based methods for biodiversity assessment” of the international research network DNAqua-Net now provides the standardizations and guidelines for the application of DNA-based biomonitoring tools that have been missing so far. The manual will be updated in the future as technologies evolve.

Expanding ecological monitoring and relating it to factually comparable data is urgently needed in the face of the biodiversity and climate crises. Between 2016 and 2021, more than 500 researchers collaborated through the DNAqua-Net international science collaboration to develop and advance biodiversity detection methods based on the analysis of DNA from the environment (e.g., river water) or from unsorted collections of organisms. The DNAqua-Net network is funded by the European Union’s European Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research (COST) program.

Collecting environmental samples to send to the laboratory for DNA analysis is much cheaper, faster, and also non-invasive compared to capturing and examining living organisms. DNA-based methods are thus a true innovation for comprehensive biodiversity assessment and monitoring. However, large-scale establishment has been hindered by a lack of standardization and universal guidelines. The DNAqua-Net team has now published a guide for implementing DNA-based biodiversity survey methods. Dr. Sarah Bourlat, Section Leader Metabarcoding, from the Leibniz Institute for Biodiversity Change Analysis in Bonn (LIB Bonn), Germany, also contributed to the manual. The guidelines consider four different types of samples: Water, sediments, invertebrate collections, and diatoms. In addition, two primary types of analyses: detection of individual species using quantitative real-time PCR and similar targeted methods, and detection of biological communities using DNA metabarcoding. At each stage of the field and laboratory process, the practical guide lays out the scientific consensus, the decisions to be made, and the tradeoffs involved. In particular, the guide considers how decisions may be affected by common practical constraints such as logistics, time, and budget. The Practical Guide will be made available as an Advanced Book and will be continually updated to reflect new developments in the technology.

The DNAqua-Net team invites other researchers to share their feedback and personal contributions.

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