Ontario School Kids Go ‘Buggy’ for Guelph Biodiversity Project

April 11, 2013 - News Release

This spring, University of Guelph biologists will take science to Ontario classrooms and schoolyards whose students will help to grow a database of insects for use by researchers around the world.

Students across Ontario, including in Guelph, will collect specimens for DNA barcoding in malaise traps to explore insect diversity in their schoolyards. Their specimens will be picked up this spring by the BioBus, a dedicated collecting RV run by U of G’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO).

The project is part of an ongoing collection of voucher insect specimens and tissue for molecular analysis and barcoding at the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding (CCDB) at Guelph, and for identification by taxonomists. By using genetic material to catalogue the world’s creatures – not just bugs but other animals, plants and fungi – scientists can help control pests and disease, monitor the environment, conserve species and authenticate food products to protect human health.

The BioBus will visit 60 schools this spring, mostly in southwestern Ontario and as far as Owen Sound and Oshawa. Students in grades 6 and 12 will participate and integrate the project into their curriculum.

The 2,000 students involved in the study could help generate 12,000 DNA barcodes over two weeks.

“The reference library that is being created is intended for use by the broader scientific and amateur naturalist community,” said integrative biology professor Paul Hebert, director of CCDB and the BIO. “These reference DNA barcodes are linked to authoritatively identified voucher specimens deposited in major collections, where they are accessible for examination and in-depth analyses by all interested researchers.”

The BioBus team will help students to place the traps. The traps resemble small tents whose netted walls allow collection of hundreds of specimens. Analysis and DNA barcoding to identify species will be done at the BIO.

“This is a unique opportunity for elementary-aged students to take part in a scientific study with worldwide applications,” said Hebert. “We hope this study will encourage more young Canadians to explore science as a future field of study and potential career field.”

Students at Wellington Hall Academy in Guelph enjoyed the chance to work on the project, said Catherine Huntley, principal.

“Our students have been excited for days at the chance to put down these traps and see what insects are found,” said Huntley, whose school hosted the BioBus Feb. 28. “This is a way for us to encourage our senior students to take a new look at what scientific study involves. Students get hands-on experience and the chance to go beyond books and the classroom, to make a contribution that researchers around the world will value.”

The BIO team hopes funding will allow other schools to take part next year. Guelph researchers work on similar projects with other organizations, such as conservation areas and parks.

BioBus trips to several area schools will take place as follows:

· Grand River Collegiate Institute, April 16
· St. James Catholic School, April 19
· St. John’s Kilmarnock School, April 19
· Southwood Secondary School, Cambridge, April 23
· Central Wellington District High School, Fergus, April 24
· John F. Ross CVI, April 25

For more information:

Dirk Steinke
Director, Education and Outreach
Biodiversity Institute of Ontario
University of Guelph
519 -824-4120, Ext. 53759

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, kgonsalves@uoguelph.ca.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1