Three Penn State Behrend students, with the help of two professors, have for the first time discovered that an invasive freshwater crustacean known as the bloody red shrimp occupies Lake Erie waters in Pennsylvania.
Because bloody red shrimp, which are only a few millimeters in length, feed off small plankton, they could pose a long-term threat to native organisms like small fish. The students found bloody red shrimp about two hours after sundown on July 25 near Lampe Marina Campground.
Dobry, Deloe and Moore made their discovery as part of a research project led by Matt Gruwell, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at Behrend who specializes in evolution, genetics, entomology and invertebrate zoology, and Ivor Knight, Ph.D., a biology professor and the associate dean of research and graduate studies. Gruwell and Knight were awarded a $177,373 grant through the Great Lakes Protection Fund to study "early detection of ship-mediated invasive species through eDNA detection." The research focused on the efficacy of Environmental DNA, or eDNA, processes as they relate to crustacea, specifically the bloody red shrimp.
"Much like you would look for evidence of certain human beings at a crime scene, it's the same sort of technique," Knight said.
Environmental DNA research aims to determine the presence of an organism by collecting samples of water, soil, snow or even air that might contain DNA that an organism has expelled while living in or moving through the environment. Gruwell and Knight, for example, found that the DNA of bloody red shrimp does not persist in water after a few weeks and that it is viable for an even shorter period in an environment rich with other organisms, including bacteria and fungi.