Professor Beard Co-leader of Maine Environmental DNA Research Initiative to Support Coastal Ecosystems

A $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation EPSCoR program will fund a five-year initiative that aims to revolutionize environmental monitoring, ecological understanding and sustainability of coastal ecosystems. Dr. Kate Beard-Tisdale is among the four Co-Principal Investigators leading the project which additionally include Dr. David Emerson, Dr. Michael Kinnison, and Dr. Heather Leslie while Dr. Kody Varahramyan as UMaine vice president for research and dean of the graduate school serves as P.I.

The University of Maine is partnering with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other collaborators in education, government agencies, citizen’s groups and local industry statewide. According to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement, “This investment will advance the University of Maine’s work, in partnership with Bigelow Laboratory, to better understand our coastal ecosystem and find solutions to offset the impacts of changing ocean conditions on our communities, marine life and economy.” The new research program will focus on two pressing issues for the coast of Maine: sustainable fisheries and harmful species.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is like a genetic fingerprint of a marine ecosystem. Organisms leave traces of DNA, the universal code for life, wherever they go — in the water, air or soil. These traces can be collected, identified and linked back to those species, much like evidence at a crime scene.

The resulting data can show where, when and how species and groups of organisms have interacted with each other and their coastal habitats. Collected eDNA can also be combined into larger and more comprehensive data sets that scientists can reanalyze to answer ever-evolving questions about how coastal systems work — and what makes them resilient or susceptible to change.

For more information on this research project titled Molecule to Ecosystem: Environmental DNA as a Nexus of Coastal Ecosystem Sustainability for Maine (Maine-eDNA), consult the Maine-eDNA, the full UMaine News Release, and the NSF Award announcement.