“MOLBIO: Investigation of methods based on new generation MOLecular techniques for monitoring BIOdiversity in rivers.”

The project “MOLBIO: Investigation of methods based on new generation MOLecular techniques for monitoring BIOdiversity in rivers” developed by the Cantabrian company Ecohydros S.L. and financed by SODERCAN has been successfully completed.
The biannual MOLBIO project, promoted and developed by the Environmental Genetics Department of Ecohydros, and with the collaboration of IHCantabria in certain activities, has just ended with very promising results that enable the Cantabrian SME in the application of novel techniques for the detection of species through environmental DNA.
Environmental DNA (or eDNA) makes it possible to detect any species, however small or difficult to find, without the need to visually observe or capture it, simply with a sample of the water in which it lives, in this case rivers, and PCR analysis, which has become popular in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to the development of the MOLBIO project, it is not only possible to conclude whether or not a species inhabits a body of water, but also to estimate its abundance by means of calculation techniques applied to quantitative PCR or qPCR. The results of the project have demonstrated the numerous advantages of using environmental DNA in the calculation of biomass (=quantity) of organisms. This is achieved from a water sample and without the need to interfere in the activity of the species, which is of enormous importance, for example, in the case of protected, threatened or endangered species such as eel, European crayfish or river mussels; and also in species of great interest (ecosystemic, economic or social) such as Atlantic salmon and brown trout. All these species have been successfully analyzed in the project. In addition, the results obtained have shown the enormous potential of this tool for estimating the distribution of aquatic species and it has been possible to confirm that it is possible to use environmental DNA as a new procedure for the generation of spatial distribution maps of species in an accurate and non-invasive way.
This methodology has an extremely high sensitivity and resolution, which allows the detection of target species, even if they are found in very low numbers. The fact that a species is present with a very low number of individuals means that sometimes, with conventional sampling, they are difficult to observe or capture and are not detected, not so with environmental DNA, which is capable of detecting them. This characteristic makes it a very useful tool for early warning of invasive species, such as in the initial stage of a biological invasion, for example of zebra mussels or catfish, also analyzed in the project.
Another objective of the MOLBIO project was to analyze the samples in the same place where they come from in real time, i.e., at the river, immediately, without the need to transport them. To this end, Ecohydros S.L., after an exhaustive market study, has tested an innovative portable PCR device that allows samples to be analyzed anywhere. In addition, this Cantabrian SME has closed agreements for the commercialization of this equipment in Spain and Southern Europe. MOLBIO was successfully completed despite the extraordinary pandemic situation that affected practically half of the project execution time, meeting all the objectives set and also playing an important role in the current health crisis, since these same techniques are being used for the detection of the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus in environmental samples. The versatility of the method, as well as its promising results point to environmental DNA as the future for species detection.

ECOHYDROS S.L. is committed to the future through the use of new environmental genetics technologies (eDNA) for biodiversity conservation.