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Maine Barcode of Life Broadens Student Participation in STEM

Deering High School students visit the Marine Science Center at the University of New England.

Engaging students in STEM can be challenging, especially with the limited resources of most classrooms.  That’s why Karen Shibles, a Deering High School science teacher, took advantage of a unique opportunity offered by iXplore and enlisted her students in the “Maine Barcode of Life” (MBOL) project. This project focuses on biodiversity and genetics and connects students to the living world around them.

During the first phase of the project, students learned about marine organisms by visiting the University of New England’s (UNE) Marine Science Center.  Dr. Markus Frederich and Dr. Deborah Landry gave the visitors a tour of the marine biology labs with expansive touch tanks. At first, the students were very apprehensive (even scared) about getting too close to live marine organisms, but with the help of UNE students, the high schoolers slowly began exploring the saltwater tanks and holding starfish, crabs, and urchins.

A skate startles a group of students.

Determining the exact species of fish, crab or sea star can be very difficult, even with a field guide, unless you’re experienced.  This was especially true for the Deering students since most of them had never been to the ocean. During the second phase of the MBOL project, students learned how to use DNA barcoding, a powerful research method which can identify and classify any organism. So how does DNA barcoding work? First, students extract DNA from the organism through a series of steps using different chemicals and equipment. Second, students use biotechnology to amplify one universal gene and later obtain the DNA sequence or code. Third, students import the DNA code into the BOLDsystems website, which compares the code to all the other codes stored in the genetic database. Within seconds, BOLDsystems reports the species name and how it relates to all other species. In the end, Deering High School students learned about marine biodiversity, advanced their lab and analytical skills, and published 8 new species records.  Thank you Deering High School for contributing to the Maine Barcode of Life!

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