NAU Lab Develops Tool to Identify Bats from Guano

Sep 28, 2016

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

Spotted bat
Credit Carol Chambers/Flickr

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.