Ignition Project: Non-destructive genomic identification of museum-preserved parasites and their hosts from formalin preservation media

Project: Research

Project Details


Environmental changes such as rising temperature, eutrophication and habitat fragmentation are key influencers driving shifts in hostparasite interactions (Brunner & Eizaguirre 2016). New parasites are emerging that infect humans (Li et al. 2010), wildlife (Thompson et al. 2010) and key agricultural species (Mennerat et al. 2010). In response to this growing threat, eDNA technology is facilitating rapid large-scale survey of parasite diversity (Bass et al. 2015). However, sampling of contemporary systems neglects characterisation of historical parasite distribution, which is a fundamental component of understanding shifts in parasite distribution and predicting emergence of new problematic species. Inadvertent preservation of parasites in museum collections offers opportunities to gather historical data describing host-parasite relationships (Howard et al. 2019; Harmon et al. 2019). Currently, data collection predominantly relies on time-consuming morphological identification by highly specialised taxonomists and often involves destructive sampling of precious specimens. High-throughput DNA sequencing has been demonstrated in dry museum parasites (Haran et al. 2018). Unfortunately, the wide-spread practice of formalin-fixation has thus far prevented DNA sequencing of preserved parasites associated with wet-preserved specimens, including the majority of fish, reptile and amphibian specimens. Recently, Hahn et al (2021) have demonstrated successful genomic sequencing from formalin-preserved museum specimen tissue (Figure 1). Having developed methods
of extracting genomic DNA from these intractable specimens, we are poised to extend this capability not just to purposefully collected vertebrate specimens but to their parasites preserved with them. This project will test the feasibility of non-destructively capturing historical genotypes from formalin-preserved museum specimens through eDNA barcoding of DNA extracted from preservation media.
Short titleNon-destructive genomic identification of museum-preserved
Effective start/end date1/07/2130/07/22