U of G Science Project Captures Bug Barcodes and Kids' Interest

June 13, 2013 - News Release

A program designed by the University of Guelph to introduce children to science in their schoolyards has turned up hundreds of new insect DNA barcodes for a growing library of life on Earth.

Under its School Malaise Trap Program, U of G’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) gave traps to Grade 6 and 12 students in southwestern Ontario to collect insects in 60 schoolyards for two weeks. Students also learned about biodiversity and DNA barcoding technology developed at Guelph for identifying species.

Under the International Barcode of Life(iBOL) project based at Guelph, researchers are collecting DNA barcodes from species worldwide for a growing barcode library accessible to scientists around the globe. The students collected more than 95,000 individual specimens from April 22 to May 3. Among those specimens were almost 1,400 species of organisms, including 276 species whose barcodes were new to the iBOL database.

The BIO research team – about 100 molecular biologists, informaticians and taxonomists – has distributed traps to national parks and schools in Canada, and the project has been more successful than expected, said Dirk Steinke, director of education and outreach at the institute.

“It was the first project of its kind, so that already made this special,” he said. “The results were better than we thought we would get, and the diversity of species found was much higher than anticipated, especially given the early time of the year and the length of the winter.”

He said an added benefit was the chance to work with students and introduce them to science firsthand. U of G scientists travelled to the schools in the BIObus, the institute’s research and collection vehicle.

Students set traps and recorded weather data to provide complete records for the research team.

“The fact that a student becomes part of the scientific process goes a long way to showing them how exciting science can be,” said Steinke. “Often science at school means designed experiments with predictable outcomes. With the school malaise trap program, we’re involving them in ongoing research. It is an example of how discovery-based science can engage students in the creation of a valuable public and scientific resource.”

For scientists, the iBOL project provides a valuable identification system for economically, socially or environmentally important species. DNA barcoding allows scientists to monitor and protect biodiversity.

The BIO team hopes to continue the school program.

“There was lots of excitement and engagement,” said Steinke. “Students could relate to science much better by being part of it. We already received questions if we would come again, and many other schools that didn't have a chance to participate asked if we could work with them next time.”

Bug Barcodes

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

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