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Queen Mary University in London scientists have shown for the first time that it is possible to extract DNA from the air. What began as an ecological evaluation could end up with far-reaching implications in a variety of areas, including forensics. Consider being guilty of a crime based on DNA evidence obtained from the air at the crime scene.
The scientists gathered air from a room that had previously hosted nude mole-rats as part of a report recently published in the journal PeerJ. The team examined the sample for DNA sequences using existing techniques and discovered mole-rat DNA.
Dr. Elizabeth Clare, the study’s lead author and a senior lecturer at Queen Mary, said the discovery opens up new possibilities for researching animal populations in difficult-to-access settings such as caves and burrows.
Perhaps more intriguing, they discovered human DNA in the air samples, implying potential future uses in the world of forensics.
“What started off as an attempt to see if this approach could be used for ecological assessments has now become much more, with potential applications in forensics, anthropology and even medicine,” Clare added.
The technique, according to the senior lecturer at Queen Mary, could also help scientists better understand the spread of airborne diseases such as Covid-19.
“At the moment social distancing guidelines are based on physics and estimates of how far away virus particles can move, but with this technique we could actually sample the air and collect real-world evidence to support such guidelines,” said Clare.
The team is also collaborating with business members such as NatureMetrics to assess how the tool can be used in other contexts.