DNA Is In The Air

Scientists from Queen Mary University in London have discovered that DNA exists in the air. This research could prove vital in forensics and also in understanding diseases like Covid which we know can be transmitted by air. 

The research was published in the journal PeerJ and the source is Queen Mary University, March 2021 (see footer).

The Research

The researchers collected air samples from a room which had had naked mole rats in it. Naked mole rats are a social rodent species that live in underground colonies. They then looked to see if the air had any DNA sequences in it. Mole rat DNA was found in the samples, as well as human DNA. 

The importance of this research is that it could be used to help us understand animal communities in areas hard to get to. But its use in medicine makes it so interesting at the moment. With the recent Covid pandemic mathematical modelling has been used to estimate the distance the virus travels in the air. This modelling has then been used by governments to advise the population on social distancing. But with this latest research the air could be accurately sampled to understand how the Covid virus moves. This could be essential in defining how far social distancing should be to be really effective. 

Environmental DNA

This new research is dealing with what is known as Environmental DNA or eDNA for short. eDNA is essentially DNA that is released from an organism into the environment. Sources of eDNA include saliva, urine or skin cells. It was developed in the 1990’s and prior to this research focused very heavily on water, soil, snow and rain.

Previous applications of eDNA 

eDNA has proven to be an invaluable tool in understanding the distribution of a species that may no longer be present in an area. It has also been used to search for species rarely seen by people. One example of this is an eDNA study in 2012 which detected pilot whales in the Baltic sea, a place no longer thought to be visited by whales. But eDNA disproved this. Another example of the use of eDNA has been in Australia where researchers have been aware that pathogens are killing off certain species of native frogs. eDNA was used here to detect the presence of the pathogen and its movement to determine the harm being done to frog species.

On a lighter note eDNA has also been used to look at whether the Loch Ness monster exists. It may not be a huge surprise to note that whilst the research highlighted that many species did in fact live in the waters of Loch Ness a monster was not amongst them!



i. qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2021/se/study-provides-first-evidence-of-dna-collection-from-air.html - March 31st 2021

ii. peerj.com/articles/11030/ - March 31st 2021