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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Investing in Ancient Environmental DNA for Next-Generation Research into Past Biodiversity Driven by Climate Change and Human Activity

Principal Investigator: Jack Williams, professor and chair, Department of Geography

Co-Principal Investigators:

Ken Cameron, professor of botany

Josh Hyman, director of the UW Biotechnology Center DNA Sequencing Facility

Jake Vander Zanden, director of the Center for Limnology and professor of integrative biology

Ecosystems and biodiversity are being transformed by humans, but most direct ecological observations began only recently, well after human impacts began. Ancient environmental DNA (aeDNA), a 2021 Breakthrough of the Year (Science) and 2023 MIT Technology Breakthrough, is transforming our understanding of long-term biodiversity dynamics, because of the revolutionary capacity of aeDNA to detect species that were formerly invisible in the fossil record.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has world-class expertise in botany, molecular biology, limnology and ecology, and so has the potential for cutting-edge aeDNA research. But these areas of expertise are siloed and underleveraged.

This research project is a pilot designed to enhance research capacity, refine methods, build diverse and cohesive teams, and pursue proof-of-concept questions about the effects of the Anthropocene on biodiversity. This work will position UW–Madison at the leading edge of the rapidly growing field of aeDNA and its transformative insights into the effects of environmental change upon biodiversity.