A view of downtown Seattle.
Orin Blomberg/Flickr
A view of downtown Seattle.

Every living thing leaves a genetic trail in its wake. As animals, plants and microbes shed cells and produce waste, they drop traces of their DNA everywhere — in the air, soil and water.

Researchers are now able to capture the cells of animals, sequence their DNA and identify which species were present at a point in time. Think of it as genetic fingerprints that leave a trace of past activity.

New University of Washington and Northwest Fisheries Science Center research has applied this technique to broadly measure the effects of human activity on the environment. Their paper, appearing this week in the journal PeerJ, used DNA in the waters of Puget Sound to characterize the amount of animal life along highly urbanized shorelines, such as Piper’s Creek in Seattle, and in more remote areas with fewer humans, like Vashon Island.

Read more at UW Today »