DNA – Moving with the times

This week saw the EA issue their Position Statement: Using DNA-based methods for environmental monitoring and decision-making. It seems amazing that only 13 years since the mapping of the human genome in 2003 that the EA is talking about the “hope to deliver novel DNA-based, operationally valid monitoring methods that address some of the challenges faced by traditional methods” and at the same time save money.  Areas that EA are considering developing DNA techniques for include:

  • Monitoring community composition of different biological taxa for ecological assessment of water quality (currently done using  morphology-based identification biological assessment, a time-consuming process requiring highly skilled individuals to both analyse and interpret data)


  • Monitoring and surveillance of single species (includes invasive non-native species (INNS) and protected species surveillance, primarily in marine (marinas and ballast water screening) and freshwater environments).


  • Pollution source tracking (for example bathing waters and for monitoring different bioaerosol components from air emissions from regulated industry).

The EA have indicated that they are working with others to develop a regulated framework for the validation of DNA-based methods so that decision-makers may have confidence in these methods and ultimately would like to work towards laboratory performance testing and laboratory accreditation (bench marking both the method and the performance of individual laboratories). So with DNA testing of micro-organisms already in use within the remediation industry to inform decisions on groundwater clean-up it will be interesting to see how quickly the EA will be able to deliver this new regulatory framework and bench marking scheme.

If you are unfamiliar with  Microbial Fingerprinting Methods often used to assist in remediation decision making then helpfully the ITRC (Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council) have a Fact Sheet that can be downloaded here.