Barcoding the broads hero2

Barcoding the Broads

A Wellcome-funded programme of public engagement events and activities to explore biodiversity on the Norfolk Broads, led by the Earlham Institute as part of our work on the Darwin Tree of Life project.

Logo of Barcoding the Broads and the Darwin Tree of Life project

The Darwin Tree of Life project aims to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic organisms in Britain and Ireland - that’s around 70,000 species of animals, plants, fungi and protists. But why do we need to do this, and how can you help?

Through Barcoding the Broads, you’ll discover more about an area of special ecological interest: the Norfolk Broads. The project will explore biodiversity in the region and the different species living there in collaboration with local schools and nature groups.

The project uses simple and reliable laboratory and computer techniques to highlight the importance of genomics and bioinformatics for understanding, conserving, and benefiting from biodiversity.

What's on

If you want to get involved or find out
more about Barcoding the Broads,
please contact Sam Rowe, Public
Engagement Officer via our contact form.

DNA Barcoding Training

We are currently offering DNA barcoding training for local teachers, technicians, sixth form students, naturalists and science education professionals to incorporate Barcoding the Broads into the secondary school curriculum and research activities around Norfolk.

Howe Hill training

The full-day session (9:30am-3.30pm) takes place on the Norwich Research Park and covers all the laboratory and computer techniques for identifying a species by extracting and analysing its DNA. Sessions are free to attend for groups of up to ten people hoping to use DNA barcoding in education and/or research work.

If you would like to take part, please contact Sam Rowe via our contact form.

Darwin Tree of Life Poster Competition

Are you a budding ecologist, scientist, or science communicator?

The Earlham Institute has teamed up with the Youth STEMM Award to launch a poster competition for young people aged 13 – 19 years. To enter, we're asking you to create an A3 poster about your favourite species. It could be an interesting plant, insect or fungus, or perhaps you'd prefer to focus on the very small and cover a microscopic organism.

Whatever the topic, your chosen species should be native to Britain and Ireland, already sequenced by the Darwin Tree of Life project and something you want to tell people about!

For inspiration, head over to the new Youth STEMM Award webpage to learn more about the Darwin Tree of Life project. There you can also watch a training video to learn more about graphic design for your A3 poster. Once you’re ready, create your poster based on any aspect of your chosen species to inform and inspire others.

For full details, please read the Competition Guidance Notes and email your finished design to: by Friday 10th February 2023. Each entry should be accompanied by a completed Competition Entry Form.

Youth Stemm Award Poster Competition graphic

What are genomes and why are they important?

A genome is the complete set of genetic instructions needed for making and maintaining an organism. It’s made up of DNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. This is a chemical formed of two long strands arranged in a double helix structure.

A process called DNA sequencing is used to obtain information about a genome. It determines the order of the four chemical building blocks - adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T), also called nucleotides - that link up to make the DNA strands.

Artboard 2tgac helix bctb

Genomics - the study of genomes - is important because it allows us to answer fundamental questions in biology, support global conservation efforts, generate better crops and novel medicines, and provide materials for new biotechnology.

Scroll over or click on the blocks to read more:

What is DNA barcoding?

DNA Barcoding is a powerful tool for species identification that involves extracting and analysing DNA.

You may have seen product barcodes in the supermarkets, they’re the unique pattern of lines and numbers used to quickly identify the item in the shop. Similarly, DNA barcodes are unique patterns of DNA within a genome that can be used to identify the species that the DNA has come from.

Analysing DNA barcodes is a useful method for species identification because it is relatively fast and cheap. It can work alongside traditional methods of species identification where specimens are carefully analysed by experts with years of knowledge, but where it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between subtle anatomical features.

DNA barcoding can also be performed on small, damaged or heavily processed samples, allowing non-experts to objectively classify specimens without lots of specialist laboratory equipment.


Barcoding the Broads

The project focuses on DNA barcoding activities that empower you to learn about exciting topics such as taxonomy, phylogenetics, biodiversity, ecology, bioinformatics and genomics. It provides an authentic research experience - asking questions, conducting experiments, analysing results and drawing conclusions - with a variety of laboratory and computer-based methods.

In addition to reinforcing biology and chemistry education in secondary schools, DNA barcoding can be used to support local research projects that study eukaryotic organisms - i.e. those that have a cell nucleus such as plants, insects and fungi. For example, to explore non-native species on the Norfolk Broads, to discover and study organisms unique to the region, or to monitor conservation efforts in particular habitats.

Our activities and resources cover the entire DNA barcoding process, including: Rapid DNA Isolation, PCR and Gel Electrophoresis, and DNA Sequencing and Analysis. The project incorporates methods developed over many years by the DNA Learning Centre at Cold Spring Harbour, New York.

Rapid dna isolation graphic

You can now view and download the full written protocols for each stage of the DNA barcoding process with plant samples - including a list of all the equipment, consumables and chemical reagents you will need.

Click through the three tabs below to learn more!

Supporting partners and collaborators.

DNA Centre Barcoding