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From left, ORNL’s Brenda Pracheil, Kristine Moody and Trent Jett collect water samples at Melton Hill Lake using a sophisticated instrument that collects DNA in the water to determine fish species and number of fish in the water, which could prove useful for monitoring hydropower impacts. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S Dept. of Energy

Clean Power

Examining DNA in Drops of Water Near Hydropower Plants

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using a novel approach in determining environmental impacts to aquatic species near hydropower facilities, potentially leading to smarter facility designs that can support electrical grid reliability.

By collecting surface water samples, field researchers can analyze tiny pieces of environmental DNA, or eDNA, that fish and other organisms shed into the water, compare it to a genetic database of known species, and determine which organisms are living in the water. Environmental impact studies using eDNA are a fraction of the cost of conventional surveys, which can be disruptive because they involve capturing or seeing organisms in their habitats.

Hydropower — DNA in a drop

Brenda Pracheil and Kristine Moody collect water samples at Melton Hill Lake using a sophisticated instrument that analyzes DNA in the water to determine the fish species and number of individual fish in the body of water, November 3, 2020. This is a new method that could prove useful for monitoring hydropower impacts. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S Dept. of Energy

“From a drop of water, we can now better understand changes in the ecosystem, more accurately monitor and protect previously undetected endangered species, and respond with sound science,” said ORNL’s Brenda Pracheil.

Next, researchers hope to determine species, sex and reproductive status through genetic marking.

Originally published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. By Mimi McHale.

 
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