Improving accuracy of environmental assessments
Through their Ignite Program, the BC Innovation Council (BCIC) chooses market-driven research projects to fund in British Columbia. These range across industries, but all are created to solve a specific problem that an industry partner presents. Dr. Caren Helbing, Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the University of Victoria was approached by Hemmera Envirochem and Maxxam Analytics to explore environmental monitoring techniques. Their project was awarded $185 000 with a three-year deadline.
Environmental DNA in mining and energy
Dr. Helbing’s mission is to explore methods of collecting, processing, and evaluating environmental DNA (eDNA) in order to understand the species in a proposed project area. Specifically, threatened and endangered species. When applied to the mining and energy industries, these processes will supply more accurate environmental assessments when developing a project.
The traditional methods being used in project development involve a biologist trying to find evidence of an endangered species after being flown out to an area. This can lead to logistical problems and limitations depending on factors such as the time of year. “It’s quite difficult to get accurate information,” Dr. Helbing said. “Particularly for the mining and energy sector, those are questions that need to be answered reliably for land use decisions, and for regulatory purposes.”
The general method of examining eDNA is similar to current forensics techniques, except it is applied in a new way. “The neat thing about environmental DNA is that these animals that are hard to find do leave traces of themselves in the form of sloughed off DNA,” said Dr. Helbing. “We can measure that in a water sample with a high degree of accuracy.” This means accuracy in terms of the animal’s presence, but also how the animals are distributed throughout the area.
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