Imagine collecting DNA samples being as easy as breathing in and out. Well, that’s exactly how researchers are collecting dolphin DNA.

Published today in PLoS ONE in an article called, “Thar She Blows! A Novel Method for DNA Collection from Cetacean Blow,” scientists reveal that they can collect DNA from dolphins, whales and porpoises by collecting the blow, or exhalations, from the animals.

Researchers at the National Aquarium in Baltimore collected blow and blood samples from six bottlenose dolphins between March and May 2010. A test tube was held inverted over the dolphin’s blowhole as they were trained to exhale on cue. Taken along with each blow sample, a control sample of seawater ensured that seawater did not contaminate any DNA results from blow samples. The blood collection occurred as part of routine medical examinations for the dolphins.

For all samples, blow and blood showed a perfect match for each individual animal. The scientists were therefore able to show that DNA can be successfully extracted from dolphin blow.

The researchers are now applying this less-invasive method of DNA collecting to animals in the wild. “Dart biopsying is considered inappropriate for very young animals and the technique requires considerable skill to avoid injuring the animals,” says Janet Mann, a senior author on the paper and a professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown University. “Thus identifying alternative genetic collection techniques for cetaceans remains a priority, especially for internationally protected species.”

Image: PLoS ONE

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