Expanding Science in the Midwest Region: La Crosse Fish Health Center Opens the Whitney Genetics Lab
By Katie Steiger-Meister
In the fight against Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its project partners have turned to environmental DNA as a new fisheries tool.
Environmental DNA, also known as eDNA, is a technique that analyzes water samples for traces of genetic material left behind in the water. A fish’s genetic material can be left behind in the form of scales, cells, feces or mucus.
Fisheries biologists Jennifer Bailey and Maren Tuttle-Lau work on DNA extraction. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Invisible to the naked eye, the presence of Asian carp DNA in the water can be revealed through careful lab analysis and help shed light on the potential ways Asian carp may enter a water body in the wild.
The lab equipment and training needed to properly analyze water samples for eDNA are highly specialized. Previously, water samples had to be sent to labs outside of the Service for eDNA analysis, but all of that is about to change. The Midwest Fisheries Program, seeing an opportunity to dramatically enhance the scientific capacity of the Midwest Region, has built a state-of-the-art genetics lab to bring eDNA sample processing capabilities to the Service.
Construction of the new Whitney Genetics Lab was completed in November of 2012. The 5,800-square foot facility is attached to the La Crosse Fish Health Center in Wisconsin, and includes 10 new offices, eight laboratories and six clean rooms for Asian carp eDNA sample processing. The new lab is staffed by a molecular geneticist, three fish biologists and two biological science laboratory technicians.
Though Asian carp will be the immediate focus of lab activities, the science of eDNA holds great potential for other invasive species detection and prevention. Researchers are currently developing the technology to detect other carp species, as well as northern snakehead, round goby, goldfish, and ruffe. eDNA may also one day be useful in the detection of threatened and endangered species, making it a valuable tool in species recovery.
A new resource for both the Midwest Region and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a whole, the new Whitney Genetics Lab will continue to push the limits of eDNA science and refine its use.
To learn more about the science of eDNA, watch the video below.