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White shark DNA detection research could prevent ocean injuries and deaths

UCSB Marine Science Institute researcher Kevin Lafferty is the lead author of a paper entitled “Detecting southern California’s white sharks with environmental DNA.”

Lafferty is also a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist and adjunct professor working with colleagues from Cal State University Long Beach and Central Michigan University to detect shark DNA in water

“We can go into the ocean, take scoop of water, send it back to the lab and find out if a white shark was swimming in the water the last few days or so.”

Laffrety compared it to crime scene technology.

“All organisms leave DNA behind when they are swimming around, the skin they slough off or the mucus or bodily excretions that leaves a trace in the water and we can pinpoint that to a particular species if we want to figure out what has been around,” said Lafferty, a avid surfer.

The fast moving molecular technology could one day lead to an app that lifeguards could use to decide when to post warning signs.

The paper is about to be published in the online journal Frontiers in Marine Science at

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