Your teabag is rich in insect DNA that could help scientists track endangered species

There's a slew of insect DNA floating in your cup of tea. The minute bits were left behind from pollinating bees, spider webs strung across the plants, and other natural occurrences where insects were in close proximity to the tea plant. Now, Trier University ecological geneticist Henrik Krehenwinkel and colleagues are exploring whether the DNA remnants in grocery store tea and herbs can provide insight into the plight of endangered insects and also help researchers monitor the spread of pests doing damage to crops. From Smithsonian:

In their recent study, published in Biology Letters, the team found traces of more than 1200 different arthropod species from their analysis of just four plants: chamomile, mint, tea and parsley[…]

Being able to analyze eDNA from commercial teas could make it easier to collect data on insects from around the world. According to Eva Egelyng Sigsgaard, a molecular ecologist at Aarhus University who was not involved in this study, a common problem in many eDNA studies is the limited volume of samples that can be obtained by a small team of researchers. Using commercially-produced teas and herbs circumvents this issue by taking advantage of the existing infrastructure for harvesting, drying and transporting plant material. "You could even say that the sampling has been done to some degree, unwittingly, by these companies that have produced those products," says Sigsgaard.