Spider web research shows promise for noninvasive genetic sampling

January 12, 2016
Dew on a spider's web in the morning. Credit: Wikipedia/Luc Viatour/Lucnix.be

Using web samples from black widow spiders fed with crickets, researchers at the University of Notre Dame have successfully used DNA samples to identify both the spider and the species of its prey. Such noninvasive sampling to obtain genetic information could have practical implications in several fields including conservation research and pest management.

As an environmental science student at Notre Dame, Charles Cong Yang Xu said he had the idea of uncovering the DNA of spiders while he was studying environmental DNA of fish in the lab of David Lodge, the Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences. Xu found a novel and promising noninvasive source of spider and insect DNA through extracting the DNA from . Using web samples from spiders placed at Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana, he then amplified and sequenced mitochondrial DNA from spider web samples, which identified both the spider and the species of the prey.

Spider and prey DNA remained detectable at least 88 days after living organisms were no longer present on the web. "Sticky spider webs may serve as a natural DNA sampling device for DNA from the spider and from what it's been eating," Xu said.

Noninvasive genetic sampling such as this enables biomonitoring without the need to directly observe or disturb target organisms. The results from this study can lead to practical applications in conservation research, pest management, biogeography studies and biodiversity assessments.

"Sticky webs are natural DNA samplers, trapping nearby insects and other things blowing in the wind," Xu said. "We see potential for broad environmental monitoring because spiders build webs in so many places."

A Notre Dame alumnus from the class of 2014, Xu is lead author on the paper. Co-authors are Ivy J. Yen and Cameron R. Turner at Notre Dame and Dean Bowman at Potawatomi Zoo. Their paper, titled "Spider web DNA: A new spin on noninvasive genetics of predator and prey," has been recently published in PLOS One.

Explore further: Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

Related Stories

Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

November 25, 2015

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles ...

Spider signal threads reveal remote sensing design secrets

December 16, 2015

When you look at a spider web in the garden, one thing is often noticeably absent: the spider. This may be because it is lurking away from the web in a 'retreat', where it can monitor web vibrations through a proxy known ...

Male black widows look for well-fed mates

July 7, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- According to a new study published in Animal Behaviour, a male black widow spider is able to identify a female spider that has eaten well by simply taking a few steps on the web she spins. Finding a well-fed ...

Spiders—how spooky are they?

October 26, 2015

Spooky scenes of fake spiders in giant webs are everywhere this time of year. But despite the Halloween hype, spiders hardly deserve their reputation as dangerous creatures, says NC State University entomologist Matt Bertone.

Recommended for you

New discovery: Common jellyfish is actually two species

November 21, 2017

University of Delaware professor Patrick Gaffney and alumnus Keith Bayha, a research associate with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, have determined that a common sea nettle jellyfish is actually two ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.