Scientists have discovered for the first time that animal and human DNA can be collected from the air in a room. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the study of both elusive animals, infectious diseases such as Covid-19, and forensic medicine. For example, if a criminal is suspected of having passed through a crime scene, analyzing the air can reveal his DNA and thus his identity.
The process of sucking in air from a room and pumping it through an ultra-fine filter was able to capture DNA by the person's body, called environmental DNA (eDNA). Environmental DNA was previously discovered in water, soil, and snow and is used as a method for studying fish, animals, and invasive species.
Dr Elizabeth Clare, Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, is seeking to determine whether it is possible to filter eDNA from the air. The study, published in the journal PeerJ, found naked mole-rat DNA in the air of their laboratory burrows as well as in their room. The so-called air DNA was extracted from the filters and successfully sequenced.
The human DNA of the caregivers of mole mice has also been identified with this technique, which the researchers say was a surprise to them but reveals the sensitivity of this technique. Researchers believe that human DNA is subordinate to the caregivers of naked mole rats, even though these people spend much less time in the room than animals.
Dr. Claire said, here we present the first published evidence to show that animal eDNA can be collected from the air, which opens up more opportunities for investigating animal populations in hard-to-reach environments such as caves and burrows. This opens up some interesting questions about how this technology is used in forensics or archaeology.
For example, if a criminal is suspected to have passed through a crime scene, an analysis of the air can reveal his DNA and thus his identity. Also, studying grave air may be a way to obtain DNA samples of mummies or long-dead skeletons. But the main use, in Dr. Claire's view, is to study hard-to-reach and shy species.
The emerging technology relies on sucking air in a room into a filter, and this, Dr. Claire says, means it can be difficult to obtain DNA from a larger room, which limits the scope of the technology as the DNA will be greatly diluted.