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Drones collect DNA from trees to monitor biodiversity

Equipped with adhesive tapes and autonomously controlled, drones can collect genetic material from treetops to monitor animal species.

Feb 1
– 23:46

(updated on 2/2/2023 at 00:22)

Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, have developed a drone that can collect DNA samples from hard-to-reach trees. The device has a monitoring function Biodiversity Forests – not necessarily the plants themselves, but the animals that pass through them.

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Traces of the genetic material of living organisms are found everywhere in the environment in which they live. It’s easy to collect these materials in water or on land, but some habitats, such as tree tops, actually offer more complex access. This causes some species to escape observation by scientists.

To solve this problem, Swiss researchers teamed up with SPYGEN to develop a drone capable of performing such a combination. The vehicle is equipped with adhesive straps to land independently on branches and remain stable during assembly, whatever the thickness or rigidity of the structure.

Programming it for this was the researchers’ biggest challenge, but the result has already been tested on trees of seven different species, obtaining material from 21 different groups of organisms – among them mammals, birds and insects.

Image: Image: ETH Zurich/Reproduction/Canaltech

The next steps include optimizing the drone in order to collect as many samples as possible from a 100-hectare area in Singapore over a 24-hour period. Ideally, this means landing on 10 trees over the course of the day. Initial tests took three days to take samples from seven trees.

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In addition, the rainy environment of a jungle like Singapore provides more challenges, such as heavy rains that, in addition to the difficulty of flying, can erase the genetic traces that the drone is looking for.

Source: Robotics science via: the recipient

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