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A Deeper Look Using DNA

Are you aware that an invasive species of millipede inhabits the Gann Farm? 
 
Students in Dr. Maria Lazebnik’s “Advanced Biotechnology” class used DNA to identify and compare species found on the Gann Farm. “They’re learning about biodiversity through DNA barcoding,” Dr. L explained.  
 
After collecting samples, students extracted and PCR-amplified DNA, which was then sent to the Azenta lab for genetic sequencing. Each species has its own unique DNA “barcode,” differentiating it from other species and allowing students to identify the plants or animals they are working with.  
 
One group used this information to study insects on the Gann Farm, collecting samples from an ant, a cricket, and a millipede. "Since there are so many species, we wanted to identify them and learn if they were invasive,” said Ben S. ‘24. The group learned that while the ant and cricket were local, the millipede was invasive! They found a “greenhouse millipede.” Though this insect was found in Massachusetts, the species is actually native to Japan.  
 
DNA testing is a key way to identify species, Ben explained, as sight alone cannot tell you distinct differences. The group’s poster showed pictures of four species of stinkbugs—three local, and one invasive. The colors and features of the bugs were so similar; it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart just by looking. The clear identification of species makes DNA testing so special.  
 
“It was really cool to bring something new into the world,” Ben said. “This is investigative, you’re finding something new.” 
 
Ellie F. '23, who also worked on insect research, agreed. “I really enjoyed this project... except for the bugs part,” she joked. “I liked that this was a process that we could see and do with our own hands, and that it has real-world application.”