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La Serna Students Contribute Data to Landmark International Scientific Initiative


A group of 13 La Serna High School students recently had a unique opportunity to work alongside academic research scientists at Coastal Marine Biolabs (CMB) in Ventura Harbor on a scientific project that seeks to create a digital genetic registry of ecologically and commercially important species inhabiting the waters of the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary.

During their participation in the CMB research institute, La Serna students collected rockfish specimens in the waters surrounding California's Channel Islands, recorded field data associated with each of their specimens, and applied state-of-the-art molecular genetic and computational tools to generate, analyze, and edit professional quality genetic barcodes for each marine specimen, said Linda Santschi, Ph.D., Scientific Director of CMB.

“Our time at CMB provided all of us with a much better understanding of the daily practice of science,” said La Serna student Yein Ra. “We learned that true scientific practice requires not only a deep understanding of science but also great creativity.”

By participating in the project, the students joined a multi-national alliance of scientists and scientific institutions working under the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project – a global scientific initiative that was launched in October 2010 to create a digital genetic encyclopedia for all multicellular life on Earth, Santschi said.

CMB is the host organization responsible for providing high school students with this research opportunity made possible through funding support from the National Science Foundation. During the last three years, CMB has recruited high school students and teachers from around the country to help build the genetic resource, which is already being used to help preserve and protect Earth's biodiversity and help address important issues including consumer fraud, the detection of invasive species and disease-carrying insects, and the illegal trade of endangered species, Santschi said.

Teachers and students from more than 60 California cities and seven states have authored more than 700 pages in the registry, which resides on the Internet at the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD).

Working under the direct supervision of scientists is only one way that students can get involved in DNA barcoding and the iBOL project, Santschi added.  With the appropriate training and logistical support, high school teachers can also work with their students on this important project within their own science classrooms.

During the summer of 2011, La Serna Biology teacher Veronica Morales, attended an intensive, eight-day professional development workshop at CMB to receive the training necessary to bring this research opportunity to her students in her own school. Following this training, CMB provided Morales with all of the research equipment, supplies, and multi-media curriculum materials needed to engage her AP Biology students in the iBOL project at La Serna. Thirteen of these students were then selected to participate in a summer research institute hosted at the CMB lab, Morales said.

A molecular biologist for 10 years before becoming a teacher, Morales said she is always looking for opportunities for her students to gain hands-on experience in the sciences. The DNA barcoding project seemed like a great chance to do just that.

“I know from my own experience how important it is for students to see first-hand the application of their science knowledge, so I was really excited that we had so many students who applied and were selected for the program,” Morales said. “Through CMB’s efforts, our students have been able to make real-life contributions as citizen scientists – this has been a life-changing experience for them.”

During their participation in the CMB research institute, La Serna students authored 70 new pages in the BOLD registry, the public-access database that stores all of the information collected by research scientists working under iBOL. La Serna students will also be cited as authors for their contribution of genetic records to the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration, INSDC, developed and maintained collaboratively between GenBank (USA), EMBL(Europe) and DDBJ (Japan), Santschi noted.

 “This information now resides on BOLD and INSDC and is available for scientists around the world to use for various research purposes,” Santschi said. “Over time, this information will help scientists better understand and monitor the health of California's marine ecosystems and fisheries.”

Students who participated in the program said they gained valuable experience conducting scientific research in the field and were able to learn much from the scientists at CMB during their seven-day experience. A majority of the students involved said the experience has cemented their desire to pursue careers in science.

Morales and her students recently received Awards of Merit from the Whittier Union High School District Board of Trustees for their work. Yein Ra, Samantha Gonzales, Amanda Garcia, Michelle Sanchez, Pamela Hernandez, Willow Lundgren, Allison Wren, Nicole Arce, Manuel Grijalva, Tammy Doelker, Amanda Garawacki and Eipleen Kaur received recognition from the Board for their participation in the program. Six of the students made detailed presentations about their work to the Board, impressing the Trustees with the depth and breadth of the knowledge they gained.

For more information about the DNA barcoding project, visit http://www.studentdnabarcoding.org/

This opportunity was made possible through the Barcoding Life's Matrix program, a science innovation project hosted by Coastal Marine Biolabs with funding support from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1030083)