Friday, September 14, 2012

Barcoding in Schools

Mader, Biology, 11th Edition, 2013
It started in 2008 with a freelance science project of two high school students. Kate Stoeckle and Louisa Strauss checked samples of seafood using DNA Barcoding to see whether the fish New Yorkers buy is what they think they are getting. They found that one-fourth of the fish samples with identifiable DNA were mislabeled and created a big hype in the press - the term "Sushigate" went around the world and found its way in a High School textbook .

This was the start to a couple of projects that involve high school students in DNA Barcoding projects. I think it is a great idea to bring the method into the classrooms and provide students with a hands-on experience in biodiversity science. 

Most high school students are accustomed to learning science in a very different way than it is actually practiced in real-world scientific research settings. As a consequence, students develop an unrealistic perception of science that overlooks many of its most valuable and exciting elements, leaving them disengaged and uninspired.

This excerpt from the website of the Coastal Marine Biolabs in Ventura, California illustrates the reasons for a shift in High School Science education. Their mission is research based science education and DNA Barcoding fits in this concept extremely well as it is hands-on from the field collection all the way to the work in the laboratory. Students can participate in all stages of the process and at the end stands a tangible result -  a barcode as valuable as all the other ones in the databases of the 'real' scientists.The very successful program "Barcoding the Kelp forest" runs already for a few years.

The winners of the Urban Barcode Project
High School students in New York City recently participated in the Urban Barcode Project, a science competition in which student research teams used DNA Barcoding to explore biodiversity in their city. The projects ranged from studies on the ant diversity in the South Bronx to surveys of the fungal biodiversity in Central Park. The winning team used DNA Barcodes to identify the content of Gingko products. 

No matter what example one looks at, the question - can High School students do DNA Barcoding -  is easy to answer: Of course they can! Actually they should as it is a great way to learn the basics of modern genetic methods and develop an appreciation for the biodiversity around us.

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