The Barcode Blog

A mostly scientific blog about short DNA sequences for species identification and discovery. I encourage your commentary. -- Mark Stoeckle

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High school students explore urban environment with DNA

What sorts of DNA can be found in an urban environment? Last year I helped supervise Trinity High School students Brenda Tan and Matt Cost in an investigation of New York City apartments, sidewalks, and supermarkets with DNA barcoding. Brenda and Matt spent 4 months collecting and documenting everyday items that might contain DNA, and delivered specimens to Center for Conservation Genetics, American Museum of Natural History for testing; 151 (70%) of 217 items yielded DNA barcodes, including a feather duster (ostrich), a hot dog from a street vendor (cow), a dog biscuit (American bison), and a fly in a shipment of grapefruit from Texas (Oriental latrine fly Chrysomya megacephala, an invasive species in southern U.S.). Among other surprising results, the student investigators found 95 different animal species, 16% of human and pet food items mislabeled, and a genetically distinct mystery cockroach that might be a new subspecies or species. I encourage you to peruse the Rockefeller University DNAHouse site which includes their narrative and Q+A reports, spreadsheets detailing specimens and results, and high-resolution images, including of cockroach!


Following example of 2008 student-led “Sushigate.” Brenda and Matt’s DNAHouse study is capturing wide public interest, including stories in New York Times, New York Post, NPR, NBC TV, and over 230 media sites in 9 languages and 30 countries so far. If high school students can make original discoveries with important regulatory and scientific implications using DNA barcoding, then wide application to food products, products from protected and regulated species, detection of invasive species, and biodiversity surveys, including by interested public, is not far off. The most important for general public is food, and I expect to see growing attention on the part of regulatory agencies, distributers, retailers, and consumers to identifying mislabeled food products using DNA barcodes.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 4th, 2010 at 4:22 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

9 Responses to “High school students explore urban environment with DNA”

  1. Sirgay Sanger Says:

    Very impressive application of the DNA bar code. Keep up the good work! If only this could have been done with out financial institutions.

  2. Sirgay Sanger Says:

    “with our financial institutions”

  3. Jim Meehan Says:

    I read the above post with great interest. I am very interested in the use of DNA barcodes to investigate general public food. I can imagine the creation of a non-profit watchdog organization that samples local consumer food retailers and reports findings to the public. What would I need, in terms of equipment and technology, to setup for this type of a service?

  4. william Says:

    wow !

  5. Jared B Says:

    I find it astonishing that not only can you find 95 separate animal species’ worth of DNA on the streets of NYC, but that the different DNA strands constitute a selection of species that spans the globe. I’m less surprised than i am amazed – just another shred of evidence that each part of the globe can be connected to another via a few simple points.

  6. » Blog Archive » Science Online 2010: Citizen Science and Students Says:

    […] to be appropriate to student grade levels, like a project for Trinity High School, where students peformed DNA barcoding on street vendor food among other […]

  7. Luke Says:

    What a great way to encourage young people growing up in an urban environment to explore the natural world. Great post!

  8. David Clarke Says:

    I am really fond of studying the environment as well as on what is in it like the animals which can be rarely seen. It is really important to know the importance if this animals in which we could protect them from harm. And I really appreciate on what the student’s been searching for, in which they could get in touch with nature while learning new great things about it.

  9. Online High School Says:

    It’s a great job. This work will really encourage people.


About this site

This web site is an outgrowth of the Taxonomy, DNA, and Barcode of Life meeting held at Banbury Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, September 9-12, 2003. It is designed and managed by Mark Stoeckle, Perrin Meyer, and Jason Yung at the Program for the Human Environment (PHE) at The Rockefeller University.

About the Program for the Human Environment

The involvement of the Program for the Human Environment in DNA barcoding dates to Jesse Ausubel's attendance in February 2002 at a conference in Nova Scotia organized by the Canadian Center for Marine Biodiversity. At the conference, Paul Hebert presented for the first time his concept of large-scale DNA barcoding for species identification. Impressed by the potential for this technology to address difficult challenges in the Census of Marine Life, Jesse agreed with Paul on encouraging a conference to explore the contribution taxonomy and DNA could make to the Census as well as other large-scale terrestrial efforts. In his capacity as a Program Director of the Sloan Foundation, Jesse turned to the Banbury Conference Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, whose leader Jan Witkowski prepared a strong proposal to explore both the scientific reliability of barcoding and the processes that might bring it to broad application. Concurrently, PHE researcher Mark Stoeckle began to work with the Hebert lab on analytic studies of barcoding in birds. Our involvement in barcoding now takes 3 forms: assisting the organizational development of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life and the Barcode of Life Initiative; contributing to the scientific development of the field, especially by studies in birds, and contributing to public understanding of the science and technology of barcoding and its applications through improved visualization techniques and preparation of brochures and other broadly accessible means, including this website. While the Sloan Foundation continues to support CBOL through a grant to the Smithsonian Institution, it does not provide financial support for barcoding research itself or support to the PHE for its research in this field.