e-DNA for Indonesia Sea Ecosystem Sustainability

A Story from Onny Nurrahman Marwayana.

Photo 1. Onny Nurrahman Marwayana

Indonesia possesses a diverse of flora and fauna. It certainly gives some opportunities to the policy-makers to include the scientific based policy of conservation in every decision. Evidence-based policy is a must for maintaining the ecosystem richness.

Doing research, related to the oceanic ecosystem, is my duty as a researcher at Research Center for Oceanography, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (RCO-LIPI)1. Indonesia's vast water territorial encouraged me to dig deeper the research in marine biology using environmental DNA (eDNA) method, an approach which will help accelerating the identification process of marine organisms living in some areas where the biodiversity is very diverse.

eDNA is molecules that can be found in an ecosystem related to the DNA or cell left behind by organisms in the environment. The method has been considered as a revolutionary method to study of marine biodiversity, which is still relatively new in Indonesia since many Indonesian scientists are still comfortable using conventional method in species identification processes.

It is my wish to comprehensively study eDNA approach. eDNA motivates me to pursue the master program that is suit to my scientific track record. I went one step closer to my dream, as through the internal LIPI portal, I found an announcement regarding the opening of USAID-PRESTASI Scholarship program. Later, it was my path to be able to take a master program and pursue a master degree (Master of Science, M.S.) in Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), majoring on Ecology and Biological Evolution for Biological Oceanography.

Photo 2. Onny around the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

I am grateful as one of the USAID-PRESTASI awardees. It is an opportunity for me to enhance my professionalism in marine science.

During my study at UCLA, I got a lot of new knowledge and experiences, both from courses, such as ecology, molecular taxonomy, and computer programming, and laboratory practices, such as learning eDNA sampling method, analyzes of eDNA samples, up to the data analyzes.

I realized this opportunity has to be grasped as best as I can. I put my focus and time at UCLA for courses and laboratory activities23. During the study –and even up to now– I am one of the active members in the e-DNA research project managed by UCLA's Conservation Genomics Consortium.

One of the special moments happened when I studied at UCLA is I won the competition 2017 Summer Travel Grants for Research in Indonesia held by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies. I was truly grateful because my thesis research supported by the scholarship program and the grant has been conducted well by collecting eDNA samples from Indonesia.

Returning to Indonesia with more valuable knowledge and experience becomes my focus of my work plan. As a starter, I will submit a research proposal using the molecular genetics approach and e-DNA method to several research parties to get some financial supports.

Through the research, I also want to manage and nurture the research collaboration between P2O-LIPI and UCLA, which has been going well so far. The collaboration continued with e-DNA research in Indonesia. The introduction of e-DNA approach is important in order to accelerate the identification process and balance the scientific gaps between high level of biological diversity and the number of scientific publications. Indonesia needs more publications in the e-DNA research.

Photo 3. Onny (left) alongside Pak Hanif (USAID Indonesia) and Prof. Paul H. Barber (my academic advisor) at UCLA.

Scientific publications have practical usefulness for related stakeholders such as the government and private sectors, nationally or internationally. It can also help the decision-making process. Those are the reasons why we conduct some research. LIPI has been supportive to my research career, and I am looking forward to the bright future of e-DNA research with LIPI, the institute where I put my commitment to serve Indonesia.

I am proud to be part of the USAID PRESTASI Scholarship Program. The program does have helped me one step closer to achieve my greatest dream in my life: to become a Nobel award recipient in biology. I hope I can distribute my knowledge in genetic molecular and help many people throughout the world.

My message for Indonesian youths: Dream for the highest sky to reach by deciding the targets, making the best plan to do, and never giving up on achieving your dream.