Maine Barcode of Life Project

The Maine Barcode of Life (MBOL) project, launched in 2013, is a joint effort by Maine high schools and colleges to assess the biodiversity and distribution of Maine’s aquatic and land-based organisms and to build a genetic library of Maine species. Students and teachers conduct scientific research using DNA barcoding, a combination of biotechnology & bioinformatics, to identify and classify any animal or plant, to monitor native and invasive species, and to assess biodiversity — or investigate food fraud — by comparing the DNA sequence of one universal gene. Explore barcoding highlights and published examples.

Students extract DNA from very small samples of living, dead, or processed material. They apply molecular biology concepts and develop lab skills and knowledge using centrifugation, electrophoresis, and polymerase chain reaction. Students use bioinformatics to analyze the DNA sequence and determine the identity of the organism by comparing that sequence to others stored in the database. Results are verified by scientists and published by BOLD-Systems (and GenBank), which stores more than 5 million barcodes from species around the globe.

“A DNA barcode is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that identifies each living thing.” – The DNA Learning Center. One Maine high school student used DNA barcoding and revealed that fish purchased at local sushi restaurant was not the species advertised. Other students have shown tea bags fail to list all of the ingredients. DNA Barcoding is a model for high tech student inquiry and offers a platform for using scientific practices, and may lead to scientific publication and identification of new species of organisms!

How do students and teachers get involved? High school students and teachers can contribute to the MBOL project by participating in the iXplore STEM Summer Program held at the University of New England (UNE). After a teacher has received training, they gain access to a Mobile Laboratory Kit for use in their classroom during the school year.  Mobile Laboratory Kits contain equipment and supplies needed to complete projects and is made possible by the Maine Community Foundation Rines-Thompson Fund and IDEXX Laboratories.

Collecting Specimens Saco BayThe University of New England invites Maine classrooms to visit the Marine Science Center and collect marine specimens for student DNA barcoding research. Classrooms can also explore UNE’s marine biology teaching and research labs. Watch this video of students seining at Freddie’s Beach on campus at UNE.