Scientists Say: eDNA

This is genetic material shed from organisms into their surroundings

gull escape

This bird may have made a clean getaway, but it may have left some eDNA behind.


eDNA (noun, “EE D-N-A”)

This is short for “environmental DNA.” DNA encodes the genetic instructions for living things. It’s found in nearly every cell of everything from bacteria to humans. eDNA is shed by organisms into their environment. Scientists can find that DNA in samples they collect from an environment. They can then decipher the molecular sequences in that DNA. Every species has different DNA, so those sequences can be used to identify who’s around.

In a sentence

Animals may walk, run, swim or fly away, but they’ll often leave some eDNA for scientists to find.

Follow Eureka! Lab on Twitter

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

More Stories from Science News Explores on Genetics