University Of Idaho Uses DNA Testing To Track Tiny Invasive Snails

By Tom Bacon

DNA testing is not just for criminals any more.

Biologists at the University of Idaho have found it's also useful for tracking down invasive gastropods.

Gastropods as in snails.

But the scientists at the Moscow university aren't talking about garden snails.

They're concentrating their efforts on a tiny, invasive aquatic pest called the New Zealand mud snail.

And those critters really are tiny - barely larger than a sesame seed. And they breed like lightning, they're tough and they wreak havoc on whatever water body they land in.

Boat inspection stations along interstate highways are familiar sights now, because the little snails can easily hitch rides on boat bottoms, on waders and other fishing gear.

In fact, they've spread from British Columbia to Idaho to every western state except New Mexico.

But U of I fish and wildlife scientist Caren Goldberg has found a way to track the little pests, using DNA sloughed off from the snails' shells. She said water samples are filtered to catch the DNA which is then compared to known mud snail DNA sequences.

It's a challenge, she said, but the university researchers working with U.S. Geological Survey scientists have shown it works - and it's reliable.

She hopes to enlist the aid of fishing and hatchery managers because collecting water samples is quick and requires virtually no training.

Goldberg said it takes only one snail to start an infestation. One, because the tiny critters are parthenogenetic - meaning they can clone themselves asexually.
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