They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches    SINC

They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches SINC

Anthropogenic climate change and human expansion into animal-rich habitats have resulted in a global decline in biodiversitybut quantifying the severity of this deterioration is complex.

Ecologists are increasingly using traces of genetic material left in the environment by living organisms — known as environmental DNA (eDNA) — to catalog and monitor biodiversity. These samples allow researchers to determine which species are found in a particular area.

Marine eDNA is relatively easy to obtain from water samples. However, achieving this in terrestrial habitats such as forests is not an easy task.

Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich, Germany) and the Swiss Federal Research Institute (WSL) have developed a drone that can autonomously land on tree branches to collect these samples.

They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches

Drones can automate eDNA collection and get critical information in more places with less effort

minchev stefano

1674127211 664 They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches

“eDNA studies are revolutionizing biodiversity monitoring because they are non-invasive and multiple species, even the most elusive, can be detected from a single environmental sample, be it water, soil or air,” he told SINC minchev stefanoProfessor of Environmental Robotics at ETH Zurich and WSL and co-author of the study published in the journal Science Robotics.

The expert emphasizes that “taking samples is one of the most laborious and expensive parts of the workflow. Drones can automate the collection of eDNA and get important information in more places and with less effort. This drone is the first robot designed to autonomously collect terrestrial eDNA“.

They tested it on a total of seven tree species in the botanical gardens around the Federal Research Institute. In the samples they found DNA from 21 different groups of organismsincluding birds, mammals and insects. “This is encouraging because it shows that the harvesting technique works,” says Mintchev.

Researchers with the drone min

A robot with the balance of a bird

It is an encapsulated four-bladed drone that contains a adhesive outer layer to capture eDNA from trees. But not all branches are the same as they vary in thickness and elasticity. Also, they bend and bounce when an item lands on them, making it difficult to sample. Because of this, scientists built force sensors into their robot to help it sit down and balance.

They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches

Our drone controls its propellers based on the stiffness of each branch. It is a process similar to that in birds

minchev stefano

1674127211 664 They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches

“Our drone controls its propellers based on stiffness every branch. It’s a similar process to birds, which often land on very flexible branches with their tails and wings on,” explains Mintchev.

With all these accessories, the scientists propose this drone as a solution to increase biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems that are difficult to access, such as B. treetops to measure.

A racing robot

This research is a proof of concept that opens up the possibility of monitoring biodiversity in forests, which has previously required significant effort and expense.

The researchers want to further improve the device in order to prepare it for a Competition (XPRIZE Rainforest) whose goal is to discover the largest possible number of different species within 24 hours in 100 hectares of tropical rainforest in Singapore.

They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches

We are very curious to see whether our sampling method will also prove itself under extreme conditions in the tropics.

minchev stefano

1674127211 664 They create a drone that collects animal DNA from branches

In tests conducted in Swissthe drone collected material from seven trees in three days; in Singapore, it must be able to fly and collect samples from ten times as many trees in a single day. For this, the collection device must be more powerful and be mobilized faster.

In addition, sampling in a natural jungle poses even more difficult challenges. Frequent rain washes eDNA off surfaces, and wind and clouds make drone operation difficult. “We are very curious to see whether our sampling method will also prove itself in Germany extreme conditions in the tropics,” says Mintchev.

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