UVic News – University of Victoria

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Indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK) is the basis for decisions at the local level in the areas of food security, human and animal health, education and other important economic and social activities. In the emerging field of environmental DNA analysis (eDNA), a non-destructive, fast, and inexpensive method of collecting accurate biodiversity information, the value of IEK is even more important. This powerful combination of knowledge systems shows the health of the ecosystem and how several elements affect the environment – important information for effective and respectful decisions in the use of natural resources.

University of Victoria biochemist Caren Helbing is co-leading a pan-Canadian project called iTrackDNA, which involves indigenous groups across the country, to build capacity to track regional changes in biodiversity using eDNA technology. eDNA analyzes genetic material released by organisms into their environment. This project includes enhancing computational predictive models to determine the best locations for species reintroduction, conservation, hunting / trapping, and other land management decisions.

iTrackDNA was developed from many research collaborations. For example, Helbing has worked with Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation and Sarah Hechtenthal (Parks Canada) to uncover the wintering sites for a culturally and ecologically important fish, the Arctic grayling. There was no scientific data for winter roosts, but the generation-divided IEK suggested several possible locations in a river system. While drilling through the ice, the research team collected water samples to study the genetic material released by organisms into their environment. This eDNA analysis confirmed the presence of the Arctic grayling.

“We are very pleased to be working with First Nations, regulators, industry and non-governmental organizations to build capacities for eDNA applications,” says Helbing. “Current practices are changing to make more informed and timely management decisions. It’s a game changer. “

Helbing recently co-wrote a Needs analysis report for eDNA for the CSA group, which resulted in the creation of the first national standard for eDNA reporting requirements and terminology to be released shortly. Together with her iTrackDNA research team, she develops accessible eDNA tools and resources and enables targeted national eDNA evidence. The $ 12 million project is funded by Genome Canada, Genome BC, Genome Quebec and 26 other partners.

“EDNA will revolutionize our knowledge of species in the environment,” says Helbing. “With better, timely information based on indigenous ecological knowledge, we can introduce more effective strategies to combat invasive species and protect endangered species.”

Read the Genome BC press release.

Read the Genome Canada press release.

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Media contacts

Caren Helbing (Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology) at 250-721-6146 or [email protected]

Dorothy Eggenberger (Communication, Science) at 250-721-8745 or [email protected]

Robyn Quinn (University Communication + Marketing) at 250-415-7020 or [email protected]


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