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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The more we learn about genomes, the more we will understand about evolution, adaptation, cell biology and the huge diversity of life around us. With a project as big as the Darwin Tree of Life, focusing on all eukaryotic species in Britain and Ireland, new species and new knowledge of ecosystems will undoubtedly be revealed. The work will also help scientists develop new laboratory methods and quicker ways to analyse data.
With pressing global issues like climate change and a sixth mass extinction event, it’s all the more important to study and protect the species on Earth as well as the environments they inhabit. Genomics research can uncover how organisms have adapted to external pressures and which species are under threat of extinction, allowing scientists to focus biodiversity conservation efforts and reduce the negative impacts of human activities.
Studying genomes can help scientists find answers to some of the biggest questions in agriculture, health and environmental research. Learning about how living things function, how they survive in extreme environments and how they produce certain chemicals will provide valuable knowledge for tackling issues that affect us all. These include: ensuring secure food supplies for future generations, developing new medicines to safely treat diseases, and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to combat climate change.
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.
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.
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.