Utilizing CRISPR-based SHERLOCK for Rapid Species Identification
A smelt being swabbed for mucus.
Background and Significance
We have developed a novel ecological monitoring approach using CRISPR technology, which is widely utilized in the biomedical field for viral diagnostics, but is only starting to expand into other disciplines such as conservation biology. This CRISPR-Cas13a-based SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unlocking) platform is a highly sensitive, specific, and rapid method to discriminate between species in the field. Traditional genetic species identification requires sampling tissue from the organism and several days of processing in a molecular biology lab. SHERLOCK, however, can be completed in an hour or less without DNA extraction. Being able to make real-time management decisions based on accurate identifications in the field is critical when protecting threatened species, particularly in California’s watersheds.
In this study we focused on three morphologically similar smelt species co-occurring in the San Francisco Estuary, the U.S. threatened and California endangered Delta Smelt, the California threatened Longfin Smelt, and the non-native Wakasagi. These three species can be challenging to identify in the field, particularly as juveniles, which can lead to incorrect abundance and distribution estimates. Using a simple mucus swab for DNA input, we were able to accurately distinguish these three smelts using the SHERLOCK platform. This technique can be utilized by non-molecular biologists with minimal training and can be applied to an expansive range of organisms. SHERLOCK has the potential to revolutionize the field of molecular ecology, including monitoring and management practices.
Using a simple mucus swab for DNA input, we were able to rapidly and accurately distinguish these three osmerids using the SHERLOCK platform. Our protocol produced results in less than an hour, without DNA extraction. We found that a portable fluorescence reader can be used in the field (e.g. on a boat or shoreline) to produce easy-to-interpret results. We have also demonstrated that results can be detected using lateral flow (like a pregnancy test) where no equipment is needed for visualization.
We are currently developing new SHERLOCK assays to identify species of interest in the Bay-Delta ecosystem. These include non-native invasive species, such as Zebra and Quagga Mussels, as well as Chinook Salmon run-type assignment. We are also exploring how SHERLOCK could improve environmental DNA detections.
Baerwald, M.R., Goodbla, A., Nagarajan, R.P., Gootenberg, J.S., Abudayyeh, O.O., Zhang, F., & A.D. Schreier. 2020. Rapid and Accurate Species Identification for Ecological Studies and Monitoring using CRISPR-based SHERLOCK. Molecular Ecology Resources. https://doi.org/10.1111/1755-0998.13186
This study was funded with support from the California Department of Water Resources (Contract # 4600012328).
Emily Funk, Associate Specialist, University of California, Davis
Melinda Baerwald, Environmental Program Manager, California Department of Water Resources
Sean Canfield, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California, Davis
Alisha Goodbla, Research Associate, University of British Columbia
Ravi Nagarajan, Assistant Project Scientist, University of California, Davis
Leigh Sanders, Graduate Student, University of California, Davis
Diana Muñoz, Graduate Student, University of California, Davis
Anderson Tate, Graduate Student, University of California, Davis
Natalie Kolm, Jr. Specialist, University of California, Davis
Andrea Schreier, Principal Investigator, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of California, Davis
Omar Abudayyeh, McGovern Institute Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jonathan Gootenburg, McGovern Institute Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mariah Meek, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University