Photo Credit: UF/IFAS fileGAINESVILLE, Fla. — A few simple products, such as hand sanitizer and antifreeze, can preserve DNA in samples collected by lay people for scientific research, a new University of Florida study shows.
“This is great news because unlike high-concentration chemicals, such as 95 percent ethanol or pure propylene glycol—which are expensive and hard to access—these products are inexpensive and are commonly sold at grocery stores,” said Andrea Lucky, an assistant research scientist at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and supervisor of Sedonia Steininger, the masters student who led this study.
This finding is key as UF/IFAS and other agencies conduct studies involving citizen scientists, said Lucky, who runs two citizen science projects. Citizen science projects are collaborations of scientists and non-specialists. Lay people participate in studies by collecting samples or examining data to help answer research questions while learning about the science.
Good entomological research often relies on collecting and preserving the genetic material in specimens, the study says. When lay people collect samples, they may not have access to materials used to preserve the DNA in their specimens. If the specimens collected by citizen scientists are to be used for genetic analyses, the specimens must be preserved for short-term storage and shipment of insects to labs.
In the study, published in the journal Invertebrate Systematics, Lucky, her collaborator, Jiri Hulcr, assistant professor in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation and his graduate student, Caroline Storer, checked several products for their ability to preserve the DNA in ambrosia beetles. These beetles are “notorious forest pests,” the study says. For example, ambrosia beetles transmit the laurel wilt pathogen to avocado trees and are a major threat to Florida’s $100 million-a-year avocado industry.
To test the effectiveness of different preservatives, UF/IFAS scientists experimentally preserved 33 ambrosia beetles collected from an avocado tree in ethanol, hand sanitizer, pure propylene glycol and automobile antifreeze and coolant.
To check how well the preservatives kept the DNA intact, scientists used polymerase chain reaction to amplify the genetic material. They found that alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and propylene and ethylene glycol-based automobile antifreeze can preserve DNA.
“This finding opens the door for much broader participation in citizen science,” Lucky said. “Now, there is an easy way for anyone who is interested in preserving insects for a project to get the materials themselves. It also means that professionals can sample more widely, at a lower cost and with fewer concerns about safety. This also offers a big boost for scientists who collect samples in remote locations, where accessing laboratory-grade materials can be difficult or impossible. We hope this encourages many more projects to incorporate a citizen science component without worrying about cost of or access to preservation materials.”