Local high school students spent four days on campus in June immersed in the DNA barcoding of dragonflies. The students were participating in the first science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) Summer Camp, hosted by Reinhardt’s School of Mathematics and Sciences and supported by a Noyce Grant awarded to Reinhardt from the National Science Foundation (NSF). DNA Barcoding is an international initiative to develop a system for species identification using short standardized genetic regions that can be used as a barcode. It was the hope of the camp organizers to contribute to the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) reference library of all of life on our planet.
Students participated in a variety of hands-on activities during their time on campus. “We started by talking about the biology of DNA. Then faculty accompanied students around campus to capture dragonflies and damsel flies,” says Dr. Irma Santoro, interim dean of the school of math and science and associate professor of biology. Using an online program, iNaturalist, students were able to identify and document the insects they found.
“Students took DNA samples of the captured dragonflies and used those samples for many of their activities such as amplifying the extracted DNA using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) agarose gel electrophoresis to send the positive PCR DNA samples for sequencing. The samples were sent to a biotechnology company to be sequenced for use in identifying each species of dragonfly. The students learned about sequencing DNA and how to use some of the bioinformatic tools from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and DNA subway. Students also worked on developing hypotheses and planning experiments to test their hypotheses.” At the end of the camp, students created posters and shared their findings with family and friends.
The camp was led by Santoro with help from Zach Felix, associate professor of biology, and Keith Ray, former biology instructor, laboratory manager and currently Director of Conservation at the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Lands. Two Reinhardt senior biology majors, Princess Flanders, and Elise Marshall, served as student counselors. “The camp staff also included a local high school biology teacher, Sarah Brennan, who graduated from Reinhardt in Biology Secondary Education and is currently teaching biology at Woodstock high school,” said Santoro. “We were so happy to have her back at Reinhardt and involve her now as a colleague in the experience.”
Santoro and her colleagues are enjoying success. “The camp was a fun filled educational experience for all. The campers were engaged and excited to return each day – feelings echoed by their parents.”
Santoro says the camp will be offered again in the summer of 2023. “It will be a DNA barcoding camp again, with focus on a different organism.”
“The camp hit the sweet spot,” says Felix, “of providing training to the next generation of scientists, documenting Cherokee County’s amazing biodiversity, and being a fun time. These young people are so creative and engaged as learners; it is this kind of energy that will help us to solve the many problems facing society."