A $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a five-year initiative by Southern Maine Community College and other Maine educational and research institutions that aims to revolutionize the management and understanding of coastal ocean ecosystems.
The National Science Foundation announced this week that the grant to the University of Maine and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will fund the “Maine-eDNA” initiative, a large-scale effort to monitor aquatic life in coastal waters through the use of environmental DNA, or eDNA.
As part of the grant, SMCC will team up with Bigelow Laboratory and Colby College to use eDNA to monitor harmful algal blooms in Casco Bay. SMCC students will be involved in ocean field research through the Marine Science Seatime classes and for senior capstone projects, said Marine Science Professor Brian Tarbox.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to use cutting-edge technology for real-world scientific research,” Tarbox said. “In collaboration with other institutions, we will be collecting data to monitor and gauge the sustainability of our marine ecosystems and how they are changing.”
The project leverages developments in the understanding of environmental DNA – genetic traces left behind by all plants, animals, and microbes. Even a small water sample contains a massive amount of this information, which provides the potential to construct a snapshot of the local ecosystem at any given time.
The emergence of eDNA research has been called vital to protecting and managing Maine’s marine resources and its fishing, lobstering, aquaculture and other marine industries that are major economic contributors to the state.