The Zoological Survey of India will soon be studying, mapping, and monitoring wildlife using environmental DNA or eDNA. In broader terms, eDNA is nuclear or mitochondrial DNA that is released from an organism into the environment. Sources of eDNA include secreted faeces, mucous and gametes; shed skin and hair; and carcasses. eDNA can be detected in cellular or extracellular (dissolved DNA) form.

Studying eDNA may allow for quick and cost-effective collection of data about species distribution and relative abundance. This could help in biodiversity assessments. eDNA may also be an effective tool for early detection of aquatic invasive species. These can then be eradicated effectively.

The Kolkata-based Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has reportedly started a pilot project in North Bengal to collect eDNA using air filters and air quality monitoring stations. This system is being used in the US and Europe currently.

The pilot project sources filters from air quality monitoring stations which have two filters PM10 and PM 2.5 to identify levels of particulate matter and pollutants in the air. But the filters also capture eDNA data which provide valuable data on local biodiversity.

This can be used by researchers in quantifying wildlife, flora and fauna. eDNA can also help scientists in finding elusive and invasive species in a particular region. It is estimated that India lost $127.3 billion in the last 60 years due to 10 invasive alien species.

Researchers agree that eDNA data can help governments and environment protection organisations target their conservation programmes in a more effective manner. It can also sharpen their approach in a world where global warming and climate change requires a deeper understanding of environmental impact on the ground.