Just as the unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each consumer product, a short “DNA barcode” (about 600 nucleotides in length) is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that can potentially identify any living thing. DNA barcodes allow non-experts to objectively identify species – even from small samples, damaged, or processed material.
DNA Barcoding is a simple way to bring open-ended experimentation (inquiry) into formal and informal science settings. Barcoding projects stimulate independent student thinking across different levels of biological organization, linking molecular genetics to ecology and evolution. DNA barcoding also integrates different methods of scientific investigation – from in vivo observations to in vitro biochemistry to in silica bioinformatics. The core experimental and sequence analysis work can be mastered in a relatively short time, allowing student teams to reach a satisfying research endpoint within a single summer or academic-year cycle.
Students may participate in a “distributed” project where they add data to a coordinated effort to examine a local ecosystem, museum collection, or conservation issue. Projects may take on a forensic slant by identifying product fraud (such as mislabeled food items) or the biological sources of some common products (such as plants or animals used in traditional medicines).
In this one-week course for high school biology, AP biology, and science research teachers, participants will extract and amplify DNA from tissue samples, and produce DNA barcodes to identify species and explore the relationships between them. Using DNA Subway, an online bioinformatics tool developed by the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, DNA sequences will be compared across online databases and phylogenetic trees will be constructed.
Upon completion of this training course, teachers will be eligible to mentor student research teams for participation in the Urban Barcode Project through the Harlem DNA Lab (www.urbanbarcodeproject.org). To Date, over 400 students have engaged in explorations of the urban environment through this program, which is supported by a freely available biochemical and bioinformatics workflow – including robust protocols and low-cost sequencing.