/ Modified nov 29, 2016 4:14 p.m.

NAU Lab Develops Tool To ID Bats From Guano

A DNA "mini-barcode" is aimed at making it easier to locate bats globally.

Bats in flight
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Wikimedia Commons

By Melissa Sevigny, Arizona Science Desk

A lab at Northern Arizona University has developed a new way to identify rare and endangered bats — by extracting DNA from their droppings.

Faith Walker is co-founder of the Bat Ecology and Genetics Lab at NAU. She’s developed a genetic tool called a “mini-barcode.” It compares DNA extracted from bat guano to the DNA in a reference library.

Walker said the tool makes it easier to locate bats globally.

“Guano doesn’t fly around,” she said. “It just stays in one place. So you can go to a bat roost, be it a cave or mine or building, and you might not see any bats, but you’ll see guano.”

About a third of the world’s bats have DNA barcodes on file. The mini-barcode can identify all of those bats to the genus level and most of them to the species level.

Researchers can check an online database to see if the mini-barcode works for the species they want to study. They can send guano to NAU for testing. It costs about $1 per pellet.

Next, Walker wants to develop a mobile device that biologists can take into the field.

The program is called “Species From Feces.” A description of the method appears in the journal PLoS ONE.

Photos from 'Species From Feces' program

Species from Feces

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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