The Narrandera Fisheries Centre celebrated the opening of a million dollar research laboratory on Friday. The new labs will concentrate on the use of environmental DNA to further research projects.
The Director General of the Department of Primary Industries Scott Hansen and Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke were both on hand to open the new labs.
“It’s a fine opportunity to be here. The DPI is first and foremost a research organisation. That was our foundation in the 1890s when we were first commissioned by what was then a colony. We were a knowledge centre, enabling the right information to make the right decisions.”
“What we do is take knowledge that has been created and then build on it to create new levels of knowledge. I think this environmental DNA centre is the start of a whole new platform of research and knowledge.
“I have been talking about the contribution of staff at the Narrandera Fisheries Centre and the effect that has on the local community. Keep being strong advocates; that creates the next round of opportunity.”
Mr Hansen said that the DPI had funded an additional $75,000 to put in shelving for the new fridges and freezers in the labs.
“We know that if we don’t put it there, you’ll spend your own money and put it in. Thank you for the work you do across the state,” Mr Hansen said.
Ms Cooke said it was a great day for the Narrandera Fisheries Centre.
“The Narrandera Fisheries Centre is renowned across Australia and the world for the leading role it plays in freshwater fish research,” Ms Cooke said.
“The new laboratory will also support the Centre’s ongoing research into freshwater species, habitats, ecosystems and sustainable fishing practices.
“The new multifunctional laboratory includes wet and dry laboratory areas, microscopy rooms, genetics and environmental DNA facilities, a temperature-controlled aquaria tank room and sample processing facilities.”
The new labs are extensive, with not only research spaces but other essentials like safety showers and storerooms.
“We were keeping things out in sheds, but that’s not always great if you’ve got samples that are a bit delicate,” explained Ian Wooden.
The main purpose of the labs is their use of environmental DNA extraction. Geneticist Meaghan Duncan explained the process.
“Say we’re looking for a species of fish. We can take a sample of water, and filter it to find DNA that has been shed in the water. We can target DNA and amplify it. If you manage to get amplification you end up with a positive result, and you can figure out the prevalence of certain species,” Mrs Duncan said.
“I’m so excited. I’m a trained geneticist, but I haven’t been doing a huge amount of work with genetics. It’s exciting to be let loose.”
Combing water samples for DNA is a more comprehensive and less invasive method of tracking fish populations.
Rather than netting fish, or using electronic monitoring, the fish are left undisturbed, and it allows for better targeting of small, endangered native fish species, which tend to be more sparsely populated.
Better still, once the labs are up and running, they have enormous potential to be used in other areas, as DNA extraction can work for anything that has DNA.
The processes can be adapted to monitor populations of frogs, platypus, or water plants; the labs also have the capacity to test core samples of mineral, or soil samples from land. As one staff member wryly observed ‘we could basically tell you where you’ve been swimming’.
The potential for future research is huge and already the Fisheries are building stronger relationships with universities. PhD student Laura Michie, from UTS, was in one of the research spaces undertaking practical studies.
“I couldn’t have done this research at uni,” Ms Michie said.
“My experiment is on releases from dams and the effect that temperature pollution has on fish. We know deaths are one element, but I’m also looking at sub-lethal effects, like growth and swimming ability.”
Ms Michie said her experiments were already showing that cooler water was inhibiting the ability for the fish to grow and reproduce.