Sustainability Environment

How a cutting-edge gene editing tool is helping scientists save endangered salmon

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Story at a glance

  • A gene-editing tool that has been instrumental in the development of cancer therapies and COVID-19 testing supplies is aiding scientists in locating endangered salmon species in the San Francisco Bay.
  • Swabs of mucus are extracted from the fish and combined with chemical substances that will glow with the presence of certain DNA.
  • Melinda Baerwald, a program manager at the California Department of Water Resources, told Reuters the technology could prove to be an efficient way to determine how water systems impact the endangered species of salmon.

A tool that has been instrumental in the development of cancer treatments and COVID-19 testing supplies is aiding scientists in locating endangered salmon species.

Researchers use the CRISPR-based Sherlock gene-editing tool, which stands for Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unlocking, to identify endangered fish, including the Sacramento winter-run and Central Valley Spring run, in the San Francisco Bay, Reuters reported

Swabs of mucus are extracted from the fish and combined with chemical substances that will glow with the presence of certain DNA, according to the outlet. Field researchers deploy the fluorescent reader, which typically gives results within 30 minutes. 


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Andrea Schreier, an associate professor at the University of California Davis and coauthor of a study published last year in Molecular Ecology Resources, told Reuters the Chinook, listed as an endangered species, are a great sample to test the tool’s quality. 

“They’re visually very similar and the current method we have to identify the different types is based on what length they are at a particular age and it’s not very accurate,” Schreier told the outlet. 


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Meanwhile, Melinda Baerwald, a program manager at the California Department of Water Resources, told Reuters the technology could prove to be an efficient way to determine how water systems impact the endangered species of salmon. 

“You don’t have to wait for weeks or in some cases months to find out the answer to if you’re impacting an endangered or threatened species,” she said. “Instead, you can find out at the moment that you’re actually interacting with that species if you are affecting it.”


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