High school students in San Diego are using DNA barcoding to survey life in San Diego Bay, ranging from invasive mussels, to gastropod egg masses on eel grass, zooplankton and endangered species. Under leadership of Dr. Jay Vavra, students developed a simplified protocol for DNA extraction and amplification that can be performed in the high school’s biotechnology laboratory, and successfully identified dried jerky meat from ostrich, turkey, and beef. They have established a collaboration with East African graduate students to apply this approach to identifying bushmeat from endangered species in local African markets.
Just two years ago, in Syst Biol 55: 844, 2006 some taxonomists worried whether DNA barcoding would ever be useful: ”The truth is that DNA barcoding will not have any meaningful use for the general public and even when a portable barcoder becomes available it will not lead to any increase in the biological literacy of the man in the street.” Authors Cameron et al might want to visit their local high school!
For high school students DNA barcoding seems as natural as texting. You can analyze DNA to identify species? Sure. You only need a trace sample, like a hair or a bit of dried skin? Sure, just like CSI shows. On the other side, many identification keys are not practical for most persons who would like to identify what is in their backyard.
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