Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Scientists using DNA to track Mekong’s ‘monsters’

Scientists using DNA to track Mekong’s ‘monsters’

A marine biologist (left) stands in the water next to a Mekong giant catfish near the Kingdom’s capitol in November. The University of Nevada, Reno
A marine biologist (left) stands in the water next to a Mekong giant catfish near the Kingdom’s capitol in November. The University of Nevada, Reno

Scientists using DNA to track Mekong’s ‘monsters’

Environmental DNA collection could be a “silver bullet” for tracking and protecting critically endangered fish in the Mekong, according to a new report.

The technique – which involves filtering DNA in shed skin from river water – was put to the test at six deep Mekong River sites, including two in Cambodia, in the study Trails of river monsters: Detecting critically endangered Mekong giant catfish, published in this month’s Global and Ecology Conservation journal.

Lead author Eva Bellemain said that the study had detected the Mekong giant catfish in one Thai location; but given the complexity and size of the river and rarity of the species, she said this was a promising find.

“Extracting DNA from the water is relatively new, and it’s non-invasive, so you don’t need to harm the fish,” she said.

She said her team was now refining their research in order to calculate the number of fish in an area, rather than determining their mere presence.

The report said DNA detection could help at-risk fish, as “the status of many iconic threatened species is poorly known” and mostly relies on interviews with fishermen or sampling of fish captured through commercial harvests.

Eric Baran, senior scientist with NGO World Fish, said tracing fish DNA could help conservation efforts.

“Most critically endangered species in the Mekong are giant species . . . because they are naturally rare, easy to catch and usually take many years before reaching their sexual maturity,” he said in an email.

“Knowing better where they migrate or reproduce could help keep their migration routes open and protect their breeding sites.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Stock photo agencies cash in on Khmer Rouge tragedy
    Stock-photo companies selling images from S-21 raises ethics concerns

    A woman with short-cropped hair stares directly into the camera, her head cocked slightly to the side. On her lap is a sleeping infant just barely in the frame. The woman was the wife of a Khmer Rouge officer who fell out of favour, and

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the