Innovation at Work: The Mobile eDNA Filtering Lab
The new Mobile eDNA filtering lab allows for up to six filtering stations to be set up at one time. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
By Chris Olds
Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office
One of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s newest tools in the detection of Asian carp comes from a scientific method developed and implemented by the University of Notre Dame that analyzes water samples for traces of Asian carp DNA left behind in the environment, known as environmental DNA (eDNA).
To determine the presence of Asian carp genetic material in a river or lake, fish biologists take a water sample from the surface of the water. The water sample may contain traces of the Asian carp DNA in the form of scales, cells, feces or mucus. The water sample is then filtered onto sterilized filter paper through a vacuum manifold. Once complete, the filter paper is sent to an eDNA processing lab.
During the eDNA sampling and filtering process, much care is taken to prevent the water samples from becoming contaminated or compromised. When performing eDNA water sampling at remote locations, Service staff were confronted with the challenge of filtering numerous water samples in a sterilized environment with limited access to adequate lab facilities.
With the expected implementation of an eDNA program for the Great Lakes by 2014, the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) began exploring options, during 2011, for field-based filtration of water samples.
Biologist Chris Olds suggested a mobile filtering unit similar to the Lake Sturgeon Stream-Side Rearing Units employed by Genoa National Fish Hatchery. The concept was a self-sufficient trailer designed for use at remote sampling locations along Lake Huron that maintained the ability to utilize a plug-in power source if facilities were available.
Brainstorming and design considerations started in October 2011. The final trailer concept was shared with the Regional Safety Office and the La Crosse Fish Health Center Staff, in late 2011, to ensure that it would meet all safety requirements and quality assurance standards for the water filtering procedures.
Upon approval, the trailer contract was awarded to Featherlite Inc. on July 3, 2012. Featherlite Inc. worked with the Alpena FWCO to ensure that the internal trailer components would meet all of the filtering needs, both at remote sampling locations and when hooked up to shore power. The final product is Alpena’s new mobile eDNA filtering lab, fully stocked and capable of filtering numerous water samples, even at the most remote field sites.
Highlights include six filter stations, a freshwater tank that links to a de-ionized water system and enough storage space to accommodate the necessary equipment for the collection of 300 water samples.
A prime example of innovation at work in the Service, the trailer’s capabilities are endless. The new unit can be utilized as a mobile eDNA filtering lab, a mobile field station, or even a mobile classroom.