Posts Tagged ‘easy’

Notes from the international barcode of life conference #bol4

// December 5th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Science Communication

Image by .jun, flickr

On Friday I went to day three of the international barcode of life conference, which happened to be in my hometown of Adelaide, actually at the home of my undergrad – The University of Adelaide – how convenient!

DNA barcoding matches a region of DNA to a species, at the moment there’s still plenty of work on building up that barcode database (called BOLD, though GenBank is also used). There are about a million and a half barcodes recorded so far and it’s streaming along.

The database is open access, and people can use it to match a barcode region from an unknown sample to a species.

So far, people have used this to check out the slice of fish in sushi, illegally collected shark fins, and plenty of other stuff.

It’s a powerful technique now in it’s ninth year and with some serious momentum behind it. There were 450-ish delegates at the conference from around the world, and Australia is a fair trek for most of them.

There’s talk that one day DNA sequencing will be so fast and cheap, you could take a sample while walking through the woods and be linked to species information on a handheld device – you would know if it was poisonous, endangered, new to science or what. Still a while away, but sci-fi in its possibilities.

This cool video gives a neat overview. It’s about a project proposal for student/citizen science in barcoding which is unfortunately currently unfunded and basically on ice at the moment. Nonetheless it’s a cute cartoons and great summary.

The region used for barcoding is called CO1 (found in mitochondira) in animals. It’s x base pairs long, and is generally very different between species, but pretty similar within one species. It’s short enough that sequencing is cheap and quick. A different region is used for fungi (called ITS, which was announced as the official fungi barcode at the conference), and plants use two regions, rbcL and matK, (found in chloroplasts).

The session I went to was on education and engagement – how to get people involved in DNA barcoding.

I love open access, power to the people, breaking down barriers stuff, and they’ve got some sweet plans. Already some projects have been successful, like the urban barcode project that gets high school students involved, and one group, who found the ingredients of tea didn’t always match what’s on the label, were even published in a journal (No less than Nature Scientific Reports! Amazing!) One group found a new species of cockroach, which is like my least favourite insect, but still a good effort.

What's in your tea? Image by massdistraction, flickr

BOLD are in the process of adding education and engagement to their online database so students can add to the database and store their results in a quarantined area. So they have a safe space to experiment with barcoding. Plus then they don’t screw it all up, right? Karen James, who moderated the session, actually pointed out that students may be less likely to make mistakes, as they are only working with a small number of samples and there’s less chance of losing track and accidental mislabeling.

Still in development, the BOLD 3.0 interface will look less intimidating than the current version, making it clearer for n00bs like me, and with links for educators at the bottom. They’re beta version is online here. Neat. I played around with BOLD before, taking a look at the barcode regions out of curiousity, and with my amateur skillz found it a bit tricky to navigate. Can’t wait to see the new one up and running so I can play with it.

If you want to read more about DNA barcoding, I recommend the iBOL website. I’ve got some more bits and pieces, but will post them separately once I’ve had a chance to flesh them out properly.

Top ten science tricks for parties

// April 12th, 2011 // Comments Off on Top ten science tricks for parties // Just for Fun, Science at Home

Having a party over the Easter break? Add some science with these party tricks. Sure to astound and amaze! My favourite is combining vinegar and bicarb, and pouring the resultant carbon dioxide over candles to extinguish them. I’m doing THAT at my next birthday party for sure, then reigniting candles with the smoke. Oh yes. It’s going to happen.

Microbes, photographic film and a self portrait

// November 4th, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Science Art

Image by Erno-Eric Raitanen

This art is made of film degraded by bacteria.

It’s a self-portrait of the artist Erno-Eric Raitanen. The bacteria was harvested from his own body and cultivated on the gelatin surface of photographic film.

It’s a similar process to growing bacteria on a plate of agar. As the bacteria gnaw away at the gelatin, the film starts to degrade and creates some interesting patterns. He calls them bacteriograms.

I recommend you flick through his online gallery. I like to think I could make some myself one day, except with added science. Maybe add some antibacterials to part of the film and influence the pattern. OR add a mild antibacterial to the whole surface and make a picture of antibiotic-resistant bacteria!

I know I’ve got some scientist readers out there who are into bacteria. What would you make a bacteriogram of? What about virologists, how could you get some viral action happening on film?






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