Scientists and investigators may not need to collect DNA surfaces in the future. According to at Focus on science, researchers at Queen Mary University in London showed that you can collect “environmental DNA” (eDNA) from the air.
The team used a peristaltic pump combined with pressure filters to collect naked mole rat DNA samples for five to 20 minutes, then used standard kits to find and sequence genes in the resulting samples. This method not only identified DNA from mole rats (both in their housing and in the room in general), but captured human DNA at the same time.
Lead author Dr Elizabeth Claire said the work was originally aimed at helping conservationists and ecologists study biological environments. With enough development, however, it could be used for a lot more. Forensic units could take DNA from the air to determine if a suspect was present at a crime scene. It could also be useful in medicine – virologists and epidemiologists could understand how airborne viruses (like the one behind COVID-19) spread.
All practical uses are far away. The research unit is already working with private companies like NatureMetrics to develop practical applications. It’s easy to see the limits – you want to use it in areas where you know what to expect from DNA, so it might not work well in crowded rooms or outdoor spaces. However, just having this option could be very useful in situations where surfaces do not provide clear answers.