High Point students participate in world's largest genomics project

14 Mar 2014 | 04:12

    Students at High Point Regional High School participated in the Barcoding Life’s Matrix program, a science innovation project hosted by Ventura-based Coastal Marine Biolabs with funding support from the National Science Foundation.

    Through their participation in the program, students enrolled in the Hybrid-Virtual Introduction to Research in Molecular Biology joined a global community of scientists in its efforts to build a digital genetic registry of Earth’s biodiversity using a DNA barcoding system.

    The barcode system most familiar to us – the one used by retail stores and supermarkets — consists of two important components. The most obvious component is the UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode that is printed on a product label. The UPC barcode contains a unique combination of bars and spaces that distinguishes each product sold by a company. In order for a UPC barcode to be useful for a company and its consumers, it must be linked to specific information about a product, including its manufacturer and retail price. This information is stored within an electronic database that is maintained by a company and its employees. The digital representation of a barcode and the product information linked to it within the database together constitute a product’s reference barcode record.

    For animals, a DNA barcode represents the sequence of a standardized gene. When the gene sequence is compared between members of the same species, only a few nucleotide differences are observed. In contrast, a larger number of differences in the barcode gene sequence are observed between members of different species groups. Based on these differences, the sequence of a DNA barcode can be used to uniquely identify animal species.

    In order to be useful as a species identification tool, a DNA barcode must be linked to a species name and other forms of information. This information is stored in BOLD Systems, an electronic database and workbench that resides on the Internet. A global alliance of scientists working under the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project is currently building the BOLD database by linking DNA barcodes generated from known specimens to a species name and other types of information related to the specimen, including where it was collected. Taken together, this information constitutes a reference DNA barcode record. A DNA barcode obtained from an unknown or unidentified specimen can be compared to reference DNA barcodes contained in the BOLD database by a search engine. When a match is found, a species name will be retrieved from the database and provided to the user.

    As members of this global scientific community, Coastal Marine Biolabs and its collaborators are leading a student-centered campaign to generate reference barcodes for marine species that provide vital signs of ecosystem health. High Point Regional High school students and teacher, Madelaine Travaille recently joined this scientific campaign as citizen scientists and were featured in the NJ based show, NJEA Classroom Closeup. The class activities can be viewed online at the NJEA Classroom Closeup website (http://bcove.me/vputua35). The data generated and shared by these students will someday help scientists to better understand how human activities and natural events impact our marine ecosystems and their inhabitants.