MJHS Scientists Help Uncover Facts About LI’s Biodiversity

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Ninth-graders in Cathy Adee’s science research class at Valley Stream Memorial Junior High School are practicing DNA mapping in conjunction with the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center’s Barcode Long Island program. Through hands-on studies with real-life applications, the students have been collecting specimens and working on weekends to extract DNA.  

In collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, the DNALC provides training and mentoring for student teams in the area. The participants are acting as researchers to explore the biodiversity of Long Island.

Under the guidance of Mrs. Adee, the MJHS students collected samples of plants, fungi, insects and pond organisms from the stream at Hendrickson Park and the forest in the New York State Park. One group also gathered samples from Jones Beach State Park.

The class used state-of-the-art laboratory techniques at the DNALC to first extract the DNA, which is being sent to the Genewiz Laboratory for further analysis. Some samples have already gone to the lab and the class expects to have its full sequence analysis back in late December. Students will then learn to use a bio-informatics website to identify the exact species of each organism they collected. Before the end of the year, they will be writing their final analyses and conclusions. Projects will then be presented in May at a symposium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“It’s amazing,” said student researcher Madison Birdsal. “We walk through the park all the time, but never really noticed how much life is really here.”

The program provides students with an authentic and relevant research experience, along with the ability to contribute to a project that will help document the biodiversity of Long Island. This initiative is part of a larger international program that seeks to build a worldwide database of DNA sequences for species identification.