Barcoding Long Island's DNA

Walt Whitman science teacher Mr. Frederick Feraco, standing left and Principal Murphy, right, congratulate their DNA Barcoders and look forward to seeing results later in the year.
Walt Whitman science teacher Mr. Frederick Feraco, standing left and Principal Murphy, right, congratulate their DNA Barcoders and look forward to seeing results later in the year.

Congratulations to a group of Mr. Feraco’s science students who learned recently that the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s LI DNA Barcoding project has accepted their proposals. These students are now part of a big biodiversity project around Long Island.

Science educators are always looking to bring the process of science through authentic research to their students. DNA barcoding fulfills the promise of modern, Internet-enabled biology—allowing students to work with the same data, with the same tools, at the same time as high-level researchers. A short "DNA barcode" (about 600 nucleotides in length) is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that can potentially identify any living thing. The DNA barcoding projects our Whitman students are undertaking can stimulate independent thinking across different levels of biological organization, linking molecular genetics to ecology and evolution—with the potential to contribute new scientific knowledge about biodiversity, conservation biology, and human effects on the environment.

Congratulations to the following students listed below with a short description of their accepted project:

Kayla Sakayan and Natalie Ugenti-Project Summary: We have chosen two areas of the south shore to be the prime points of our study. We plan to collect barnacles from each of these areas, and compare the genetic diversity between the pollution in Island Park and Point Lookout via the barnacles. This may present information that nitrogen pollution is affecting the marine diversity and life of the ecosystem. Genetic diversity is important because it increases the chance of survival for that organism even when the ecosystem changes under various environmental circumstances. Since nitrogen pollution promotes many consequences by doing this project we hope to raise awareness about this harmful pollution as well as other types of pollution across Long Island.

Colby Goldsmith and Gretel Huber-Project Summary: Both students are using DNA barcoding for coral species that are growing at the Marine Lab Coral Nursery at Whitman, which we learn is a difficult process.  The two will also be barcoding Invasive plants that have regrown at Carpenters Farm Park after attempts to rid them and regrow native species. Many invasive plants that are spouting are unknown to the curator of Carpenters Farm Park. The Park originally was a horse farm, but about two years ago was changed into a park. When the park was still a horse farm the hay they would bring for the animals would hold invasive plant seeds causing the spread of invasive species to the park. Now invasive species like Elaeagnus umbellata aka autumn olive, Rosa multiflora aka multiflora rose, and Ailanthus altissima aka the tree of heaven are replacing the native species that live at the park. After taking a tour of Carpenter’s Farm Park and getting information from Julie Sullivan, a volunteer coordinator for the invasive plants sub-committee, five samples of unknown plants growing in a small fenced area were taken to be tested in order to discover what species are growing in the park.

Daniel Kulesea-Project Summary: Invasive species all over the world can throw off the ecological balance and ruin habitats for native animals. Long Island is no exception. To combat invasive species, scientists often interfere with the use of pesticides, hunting and the use of other invasive species to cancel out the existing problem. This project's purpose is to successfully locate where invasive ant species exist. If successful, this project can help scientists know where to carry out these solutions to the invasive problem.

Maegan Guzman and Bryce Vorbach-Project Summary: Our goals in this project are to collect water samples from each pond in a selected location. Then, we will take pictures of the samples and freeze the aquatic macroinvertebrates that might be present in the sample. Lastly, we will extract the DNA and compare their genetic relations.

Ariana Shaikh and Rebecca Genus-Project Summary: In mycology; the study of fungi DNA sequence data is playing a critical role in answering challenging questions about the identification, distribution, and relationships of fungus species. In our research, we plan to collect samples of mushrooms throughout South Huntington and try to correctly barcode these different species. Mushrooms are a very important part of an ecosystem. They help in the processes of decomposition and breakdown of organic matter in the forest. Mushrooms are vital to the growth of trees and are biological controls of other fungal species.

Stephanie Ross, Heather Abenne and Alina Naseer-Project Summary: We will be investigating the contrast and similarities of DNA in macroinvertebrates in pools and freshwater ponds, as well as the effects of human civilization on the biodiversity of macroinvertebrates. By doing this experiment we can identify possible health risks carried by the insects.