ORONO  — Science institutions in Maine say a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help pay for a five-year project aimed at dramatically improving the understanding of coastal ecosystems through studying DNA.

The University of Maine and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences are among the groups working on the project. Bigelow describes the effort as the “first large-scale effort to develop a cutting-edge, DNA-based toolset” for the monitoring of coastal aquatic life.

The laboratory says the project will focus on environmental DNA, which is also called “eDNA.” Environmental DNA is the genetic trace left behind by plants and animals.

Bigelow president and chief executive officer Deborah Bronk says environmental DNA “can provide powerful new insights into our coastal ecosystems and the amazing diversity of life they support.”

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