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Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

Insect DNA remained detectable on spider web for at least 88 days



IMAGE: Southern black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) is with its prey house cricket (Acheta domesticus) trapped in spider web. view more

Credit: Scott Camazine

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles C. Y. Xu from the University of Notre Dame and colleagues.

Noninvasive genetic sampling enables biomonitoring without the need to directly observe or disturb target organisms. The authors of this study used three black widow spiders fed house crickets to noninvasively extract, amplify, and sequence mitochondrial DNA from their spider web samples, which identified both the spider and its prey to species.

The detectability of spider DNA did not differ between assays and spider and prey DNA remained detectable at least 88 days after living organisms were no longer present on the web. The authors suggest that these results may encourage further studies that could lead to practical applications in conservation research, pest management, biogeography studies, and biodiversity assessments. However, further testing of field-collected spider webs from more species and habitats is needed to evaluate the generality of these findings.

Charles Cong Xu says: "Sticky spider webs are natural DNA samplers, trapping nearby insects and other things blowing in the wind. We see potential for broad environmental monitoring because spiders build webs in so many places."


In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper:

Citation: Xu CCY, Yen IJ, Bowman D, Turner CR (2015) Spider Web DNA: A New Spin on Noninvasive Genetics of Predator and Prey. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0142503. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142503

Image Credit: Scott Camazine

Funding: Funding for this work came from the University of Notre Dame through the laboratory of Dr. David Lodge to support CCYX's independent undergraduate research. CRT was supported by NSF IGERT grant award #0504495 to the GLOBES graduate training program at the University of Notre Dame. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: CRT is currently a scientist in a commercial company, ecoSystem Genetics, which specializes in genetic and genomic analysis of environmental mixtures for ecosystem monitoring. CRT did not receive funding from ecoSystem Genetics while this study was conducted. There are no relevant patents, products in development, or marketed products to declare. This does not alter the authors' adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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