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Racing boat collects eDNA samples on a round-the-world sailing competition

The winners of the 2022-2023 edition of The Ocean Race, one of the world’s toughest sailing competitions, facilitated a ‘’groundbreaking environmental DNA (eDNA) data collection.’’

The 11th Hour Racing team collected 27 water samples during the 4th leg of the race, which was 5,500 nautical miles, ranging from Itajai, Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island, USA.

The team took the eDNA samples with OceanPack, an onboard equipment which worked non-stop and automatically during the race. OceanPack collected the seawater through eDNA filters.

“Each sample collected contained millions of pieces of eDNA, from single-cell organisms, all the way up to lantern fish and the elusive Moray eel, providing a fascinating snapshot of life below the waves and how it changes throughout the Atlantic Ocean,’’ said Stefan Raimund, Ocean Advisor at The Ocean Race.

What the eDNA collection discovered

New Zealand-based independent science organization, Cawthron Institute, did the analysis and found a link between latitude and bacteria that degrade plastic. The highest levels of ocean bacteria, including Pseudomonas and Acidobacter, were discovered at the lower latitudes near the Brazilian coastline.

The research body also detected high concentrations of parasitic bacteria that can be dangerous to humans in areas closer to land. Rising sea surface temperatures are closely linked to those bacteria.

“We’re very excited about the data collected during The Ocean Race, particularly those linked with pathogens and plastic degraders, ” Xavier Pochon, team leader of molecular surveillance at the Cawthron Institute said. ‘’These are interesting findings because very little is known about their distribution and ecology across large latitudinal gradients.’’

eDNA methodology shows great promise

Data produced from the samples isn’t insufficient to draw generalizations, but it could prove to be a valuable aid in further studies. More research into the geographic distribution of these bacteria may give important clues to help protect marine life.

eDNA technology has been touted as a noninvasive, accurate, and fast method of collecting water samples, unlike the traditional surveys. Scientists can track endangered species, evaluate ocean biodiversity, and understand climatic effects on marine populations.

Raimund said in a statement, ‘’eDNA sampling is at the forefront of biodiversity testing and is a powerful tool for understanding ocean health and how the major threats of climate change and pollution affect it. The more we know about the ocean, the more effectively we can protect it.’’

Pochon echoes a similar view, ‘’Our eDNA collection system on racing boats offers significant benefits over traditional research methods as it allows scientists to audit biodiversity from across the tree of life, more rapidly, cheaply and with minimum hands-on time for the sailors.’’

More about eDNA

Environmental DNA, commonly known as eDNA, is revolutionizing the way we study biodiversity and monitor ecosystems. At its core, eDNA is genetic material that organisms release into the environment.

Every time a fish swims in water, a bird takes a bath in a pond, or an insect crawls on the ground, they leave behind traces of their DNA. Scientists can now harness this invisible data to reveal a story about the organisms that inhabit a specific environment.

How do we collect it?

Collecting eDNA is surprisingly simple. Researchers draw samples from environmental sources like water, soil, or even air. In aquatic environments, for example, a water sample can be taken from a lake, river, or ocean.

Once collected, the sample is filtered to concentrate the DNA present. This DNA is then extracted, sequenced, and analyzed to identify the species present.

Benefits of using eDNA

Non-invasive monitoring

Traditional biodiversity studies often involve physically capturing or observing organisms, which can be disruptive. eDNA sampling is non-invasive, allowing for minimal disturbance to the environment and organisms.

Cost-effective and time-saving

eDNA sampling can provide a comprehensive snapshot of biodiversity in an area with just one sample. This reduces the time and resources spent on lengthy surveys and investigations.

Detecting hard-to-find species

Some species are elusive, nocturnal, or exist in low numbers, making them difficult to observe. eDNA can detect the presence of these hard-to-find species, making it a powerful tool for conservationists.

Challenges and considerations

While eDNA offers numerous advantages, there are challenges to consider:

Persistence of DNA

DNA in the environment can degrade over time. Factors like temperature, microbial activity, and water flow can influence how long eDNA persists. This means there’s a window of detection, and recent presence might be easier to detect than older presence.

Risk of contamination

Like all DNA-based methods, eDNA sampling is susceptible to contamination. Rigorous protocols must be followed to ensure that samples aren’t tainted by external DNA sources.

Applications of eDNA

eDNA is proving invaluable in various fields:


eDNA helps in tracking endangered species, offering a non-invasive way to monitor their presence and inform conservation efforts.

Invasive species management

Early detection of invasive species can aid in their management. eDNA can detect these species even when their numbers are low.


By analyzing sediment layers, scientists can use eDNA to trace historical changes in biodiversity, shedding light on how ecosystems have evolved over time.

In summary, eDNA is a transformative tool in ecological and conservation research. By tapping into the genetic breadcrumbs left behind by organisms, scientists can gain a clearer picture of our planet’s biodiversity, making more informed decisions about its protection and management.

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