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Science and Innovations

NAU Lab Develops Tool to Identify Bats from Guano

Carol Chambers/Flickr

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 says the tool makes it easier to locate bats globally. “Guano doesn’t fly around,” she says. “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 a dollar 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.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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