The science

Environmental genomics is the study of genetic material left behind by organisms in the ecosystem in which they live or move through. Through DNA sequencing and bioinformatics, this environmental DNA (eDNA) can reveal the biological characteristics of any environment. Environmental genomics can help resolve issues inherent to the conventional approaches of assessing and monitoring biodiversity.

To accomplish environmental stewardship and sustainability goals, oil and gas companies undertake a variety of ecological measurements aimed at characterizing the environments in which they operate and monitoring changes within such environments. Such measurements are accomplished through numerous conventional approaches, including direct sampling and visual and acoustic observations.

These conventional approaches tend to be time consuming, logistically challenging, and can have inherent biases. Additionally, the high expenses incurred by projects undertaking biodiversity surveys is a result of the reliance on specialized and heavy equipment, the amount of time spent on the field and waiting for results from the surveys, and the cost of hiring specialists for specimen identification or visual field observations.

Environmental genomics has the potential to be cheaper, faster and to provide more complete biodiversity data than conventional methods. The approach does away with potentially-invasive specimen sampling and instead relies on the collection of environmental media (water, soil, sediment, air) for the identification of the organisms that inhabit a given ecosystem. The DNA recovered from this environment allows for the identification organisms at all reaches of the food web.

Advances in paralleled, high-throughput massively DNA sequencing technologies now provide a platform to analyze large numbers of samples in a short period of time and at a significantly cheaper rate than a decade ago.


Term Definition
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) Molecule which serves as the chemical blueprint for life by storing genetic information
Environmental DNA (eDNA) DNA found in the environment
Genome The complete set of an organism’s genetic material
Genomics The study of genomes
International Consortium on Environmental Genomics (ICE-G) Consortium of scientists from academia, government, and industry who aim to advance the development and application of environmental genomics
International Association of Oil and gas Producers (IOGP) a global oil and gas industry trade association
International Workshop on Environmental Genomics (IWEG) an annual workshop integrating advancements in environmental genomics, including  technological advancements and opportunities for application.
Joint Industry Program (JIP) A program comprised of multiple organizations contributing to fund projects towards their joint goals
Metabarcoding A branch of environmental genomics utilizing molecular techniques and sequencing technologies to provide biological information, including taxonomic characterization and monitoring efforts
Next-generation high throughput sequencing Emergent technologies allowing for rapid and accurate sequencing of nucleic acids
operational taxonomic units (OTU) A classification unit for closely related organisms, assigned via a combination of informatic pipelines which selected criteria.
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Molecular biology technique used to create millions of copies of nucleic acids; necessary for high throughput sequencing efforts.