Observing and indexing biodiversity in the natural environment can be complex. Large watercourses, forests and other wild habitats are often not readily accessible to field researchers. Not to mention that indexing species in their own environment often involves techniques that are invasive, or even destructive, for the species in question.
Spygen, is a French start-up launched in 2011 by the Laboratoire d’écologie alpine1. It has developed new methods to track species that are more efficient and environmentally-friendly, since they are based on environmental observation techniques. This new form of expertise, called VigiDNA, allows Spygen’s researchers to identify the traces of DNA left by fauna in the environment by taking samples of water, soil or faeces (1). Thanks to these samples, it becomes possible to collect the mucus, saliva, urine, gametes or skin of certain species. Fragments of DNA, known as environmental DNA or eDNA (2), are taken from these samples.
Two methods are used. Barcoding, to keep track of rare or discreet species, and metabarcoding, to detect all the species in a target group. Thanks to these techniques, the eDNA can be sampled and isolated in the laboratory in order to index the biodiversity of the observed site (3).
Spygen expects to revolutionise surveys of nature and ecological counting techniques. By way of example, in May 2018, this tool revealed the presence of species of sharks in New Caledonia that were thought to have disappeared.
This article was published in the sixth issue of open_resource magazine: “Towards a bio-inspired future”
1A laboratory including the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), Grenoble-Alpes University and Savoie-Mont Blanc University