2019 | USA | Sonja Michaluk

A Novel Method of Monitoring the Health of our Global Fresh Water Supply using DNA Barcoding of Chironomidae (Diptera)

Water issue adressed: Too little
Orthocladius Rivulorum, Biotic Index: 6

Scarcity of freshwater is one of the largest risks we face in the coming decade, according to the World Economic Forum. 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity at least once per year.  Water scarcity affects every continent. It is forecast that 66% of our population will experience water scarcity within a decade, leaving us more dependent on surface water for drinking. This requires more filtration infrastructure, and monitoring of surface water sources. 

I am fascinated by how much genetics can help us understand ecosystems and the natural world around us. This study focused on macroinvertebrates, which spend their larval lives within a small area of water, showing cumulative effects of habitat alteration and pollutants that chemical testing and field sensors do not. This project explores DNA Barcoding to measure waterway health with larval Chironomidae (order Diptera). 

The learnings from these data are being applied to fund and build a microbiology capability at a non profit scientific water institute. We have laboratory space, scientific staff, and partial capital expense established. Groups are already being scheduled for training.

DNA barcoding of Chironomidae can be a new standard method for more accurate and more precise waterway health measurements. DNA barcoding of Chironomidae can improve the management of an increasingly scarce water resource.

This is how I came up with the idea for this project:

My research, data, and advocacy led to environmental improvements: modifications to a national pipeline minimizing stream disturbance, preserving ecologically critical wetlands, protecting a threatened species. Bioassessment methods have limitations. I began improvements: developing monitoring devices, adapting genetic techniques. I observed Chironomidae, a common denominator across my sites, across the globe.


Ania Andersch

Programme manager ania.andersch@siwi.org +46 8 121 360 59