CoastCheck: Establishment of robust eDNA assays to assess organic pollution impacts on infaunal macrobenthic invertebrate communities in coastal waters of British Columbia

Provincially- and federally mandated programs for wastewater and environmental effects monitoring require an assessment of the health of marine invertebrate communities that live in the soft sediments at the sea bottom. Biologica has provided taxonomic identification services for government and industry for over 20 years using traditional sorting and visual classification methods. However, this approach is very time-consuming, costly, and technically challenging. There is a need to expand and improve upon the reliability of monitoring these invertebrates.

All living organisms are defined by their genetic material and this DNA is released into the environment. This “environmental DNA (eDNA)” can be detected using sensitive and accurate molecular tests on water and sediment samples.

The overall project goal is to develop robust, targeted eDNA-based tests to assess the impact of organic pollution on invertebrates that live in sediments of marine areas.

The NSERC Collaborative Research and Development project combines the expertise of academic (University of Victoria), industry (Biologica), and wastewater management service providers (the Capital Regional District of Victoria and the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District) to address two main objectives: 1) to develop and validate eDNA tests for verified specimens of invertebrate species of interest, and 2) to create a robust, standardized eDNA field sampling approach for marine coastal community assessments of organic pollution impacts using invertebrates that live in sea bottom sediments. This will be accomplished in three specific aims: 1) to obtain high quality DNA sequences from verified specimens, 2) to develop and validate eDNA tests for select invertebrates, and 3) to apply the eDNA tests in real-world scenarios.

The routine application of these new eDNA tools will revolutionize the taxonomy service industry and how environmental impacts of wastewater are assessed.