Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Imagine you could use just a few drops of water to know what sorts of animals and plants were present in an area. What an incredible tool this would be. It could be used to look for rare species, to catalogue how many were present or to monitor for introductions of new, potentially harmful species.

a person wearing an exam glove holding a plastic bottle partially submerged in a river

Turns out, we already have this tool. Using a small sample of water, scientists can look for genetic material left behind by anything with a genome—a species’ genetic fingerprint made from DNA—which scientists call environmental DNA, or eDNA.

Aquatic biodiversity, or the number of species in freshwater and marine systems, is important culturally and economically as well as to the health of society and ecosystems. Using such a powerful, nondestructive tool as eDNA sampling gives scientists and people managing water, land and municipalities the ability to evaluate and predict trends in biodiversity at the scale they need, from a single pond to a river system and even the oceans.

Recognizing the power of this tool and the importance of tracking aquatic biodiversity, the White House Office of Science, Technology, and Policy (OSTP) brought together experts from several federal agencies to develop a ‘National Strategy for Aquatic Environmental DNA' as part of a larger OSTP effort to advance sustainable ocean management. This strategy will empower federal agencies and partners to effectively harness eDNA as a detection tool.

A metal box beside a creek contains equipment that collects and filters water samples
READI-Net robotic sampler that autonomously analyzes water samples for eDNA from target species.

The strategy, compiled by an interagency eDNA Task Team that included USGS eDNA experts, opens the door for scientists to comprehensively catalogue and monitor aquatic life in U.S. waters and across the national and international landscape, which can lead to critical insights into the nation’s aquatic biodiversity—from microbes to whales.

It is also a call to action to build up national eDNA capabilities through coordinated, collaborative efforts that unite scientific, entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts, and public and private investment.

The USGS is answering this call by continuing to build upon and invest in eDNA technologies—like autonomous eDNA sampling platforms—which USGS scientists have worked to improve during the last 10 years. We are also continuing to work toward reaching a consensus for and implementing a guide of standards for eDNA’s use as a reliable, actionable part of biological observation and monitoring, what scientists call biosurveillance.

A major focus of USGS’s eDNA research since 2022 has been working with our sister bureaus in DOI to develop information infrastructure, tools and methods to support the National Early Detection Rapid Response Framework, which was funded by the Ecosystems Restoration section of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The EDRR Framework is an interagency biosurveillance effort that emphasizes creating eDNA sampling processes and tools to improve early detection of invasive species, expanding capacity to operationalize eDNA surveillance in local-led partnerships, and connecting siloed information.

a person using a pipettor and holding a test vial in a laboratory
A scientist extracts DNA from a water sample.

In addition to the EDRR Framework and across the country, USGS scientists work with partners to use eDNA methods to inform the understanding of ecosystems and management decisions. Some recent examples of this work include:

  • Helping to develop and provide science for the long-term and large-scale U.S. Fish and Wildlife-led Invasive Carp monitoring program;
  • Identifying specific research needed to realize the potential of eDNA as a freshwater and marine biodiversity monitoring tool, like effective statistical tools and robotic samplers; 
  • Using eDNA to detect threatened and endangered species, culturally important species, and pollinators;
  • Working with Tribal nations using eDNA to understand the spread of Burmese pythons in southern Florida, European green crab in Puget Sound and aquatic invasive species in the upper Midwest;
  • Using eDNA in the marine environment to monitor deep ocean communities in the U.S. Economic Exclusion Zone, to monitor marine communities in areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and to assess coral community restoration.

USGS scientists have been at the forefront of eDNA tool development for more than a decade, publishing over 100 scientific articles developing, improving or applying eDNA tools. The release of this national eDNA Strategy empowers managers to use eDNA results in decision-making. USGS will continue to invest in the research, development and application of eDNA science in support of managers looking to use this tool to inform policy and decision-making.


About the eDNA Task Team

The eDNA Task Team was formed by the Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (SOST), part of the Committee on Environment of the National Science and Technology Council, to author the National Strategy for Aquatic Environmental DNA. The team included participants from fifteen federal agencies, and conducted scoping and engagement with the private sector, academia and non-profit organizations.


Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.