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DNA Barcoding Project Helps Students Identify Plant, Insect Species

by Janelle Hill Oct 23, 2019

Students in Dr. Lara Goudsouzian’s molecular biology class traipsed through the rain and mud to pick the perfect plant or invertebrate for a new DNA barcoding project. 

“DNA barcoding is specifically identifying species by sequencing small regions of their genome,” says Goudsouzian, assistant professor.

Students used butterfly nets to collect their samples from the marsh behind the Dorothy Day Student Union. Back in the lab, they photographed the samples before using a series of solutions to break open the cells and pull away the DNA. They will send the DNA off to a company that provides the exact genetic sequence, which students will then use to compare to databases. 

“I feel that by learning about other species, you learn more about humans,” says Jane Fuller, a medical studies major, adding, “It’s great to finally get out of the lab and not always be inside.”

The goal of the project is to identify whether the species are native, invasive, or extending into our area because of climate change. Students will share their data with entomologists and molecular pathologists at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 

“This directly relates to what they’re learning,” Goudsouzian says. “It’s nice that they’re looking both deep inside the cell and deep outside the cell because normally we have such a micro view in my course. We’re taking a really zoomed out view and yet still dealing with molecular biology.” 

The project was made possible thanks to a grant that Goudsouzian received from the National Science Foundation and Cold Spring Harbor Lab. It coincides with the Earth BioGenome Project, an international initiative that aims to sequence, catalog, and characterize the genomes of all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity over 10 years.  

“Students can plug into this big effort to try to catalog all of the species on the planet,” says Dr. Joseph Colosi, associate professor. “This project is getting the students to think about what the role of this species is in this ecosystem.” 

For more photos of the DNA barcoding project, visit our Flickr album