Door 23: Bugs in a teacup!

Door 23! Advent is almost over and a new year is on the horizon – and with a new year comes new ideas and opportunities in life and research alike. For my article, I’ve chosen to present “The bug in a teacup—monitoring arthropod–plant associations with environmental DNA from dried plant material” by Henrik Krehenwinkel, Sven Weber, Sven Künzel and Susan R. Kennedy. One of the reasons this article caught my eye was the funny title, but also because of the potential applications of their findings in our own museum. New ideas are the cornerstone of further research, and seeing how we can integrate these ideas into our own work, both within entomology and other areas, is an exciting way to think in the new year.

Krehenwinkel et al. put forward a new assay they have developed for extracting environmental DNA (eDNA) from dried plant material, looking for arthropods. Using primers specifically designed to amplify as much animal and fungi DNA as possible while excluding plant DNA, they managed to extract arthropod eDNA from the surface of dried up plant material. They found that this was a very efficient way of gathering eDNA, where filtered surface washing was more time critical, and traditional passive arthropod sampling requires time, resources, and ability to travel. After their initial primer tests, they moved on to attempting to extract arthropod eDNA from teas and herbs found in their local supermarkets! Across 40 products and brands, they managed to recover eDNA from 1279 arthropod species. One would perhaps wonder if many species represented are pests known to affect grocery transport, however many of the species could be traced back as species natively found on these teas and herbs in their natural habitats. They illustrate this well in Figure 2, shown below:

Krehenwinkel et al. go on to propose potential applications of their methodology – from pest management in important agricultural exports, to outreach, as dried samples are particularly robust and therefore suitable for schoolchildren. The applications that stood out to me however, was the possibility for using these assays within museum collections. If desiccated plant material is potentially a rich source for eDNA, perhaps there are ways we can apply that within our very own museum? Time will tell, but for now I leave you with the incredible reminder about how far we’ve come, and that we can collect region specific arthropod DNA from products in our own grocery store aisles.

Reference: Krehenwinkel H, Weber S,Künzel S, Kennedy SR. 2022 The bug in ateacup—monitoring arthropod–plantassociations with environmental DNA fromdried plant material.Biol.  Lett.18: 20220091.https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2022.0091

Image credit: Illustration by Maxine Builder and Lauren Kolm

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