Cool Science for the Day: DNA Extracted from Dolphin “Blow”

A group of scientists from Georgetown University, the National Aquarium, and the University of Queensland have pioneered a new technique for gaining DNA samples from dolphins: they’ve extracted DNA from dolphin “blow”—that is, the misty breath dolphins blow out when they surface.

200500601-9am-blue-swim-1 028This is pretty cool because the current best method, the “dart biopsy”, is invasive (see the “dart” part), can’t be used on young animals, and requires a great deal of skill to carry out. Both techniques can only be used on nearby animals, but since dolphins enjoy the occasional frolic in a boat’s wake, they often approach boats of their own volition.

So far, scientists have obtained blow samples from captive dolphins by training them to exhale on command, into test tubes. Now that they know the technique works, they’re working on taking the method into the field—specifically, a population of bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia’s Shark Bay.

I’d like to watch this. How the heck do you get a a bow-riding wild dolphin to exhale into a test tube? It’s a great idea that sounds very tricky to put into practice. I’ll be waiting to see if they can get it to work!

:) Cheryl