HudsonAlpha Biotech Academy students publish DNA Barcode data for rare, native Alabama flower

Clematis morefieldii © Alan Cressler

Clematis morefieldii © Alan Cressler

Huntsville, Ala. — GenBank (the National Institutes of Health database of genetic sequences) has published the chloroplast sequence data for Clematis morefieldii generated by high school students in the 2014 HudsonAlpha Biotech Academy. This plant is the rare, federally endangered Morefield’s Leatherflower found on Keel Mountain in Madison County, Ala., in parts of southeastern Tennessee, and in the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

Students participating in the HudsonAlpha Biotech Academy this summer collected samples of the plant from the Huntsville Botanical Garden with the help of Chief Horticulturalist Harvey Cotton. The students extracted the plant’s DNA and amplified a short region of the chloroplast that can be used to identify the plant down to the species level. After analyzing the DNA sequence, the students determined that this particular species of Clematis was unique and its DNA sequence for the chloroplast region had not been published in the database.

The sequence, along with identifying data such as the GPS coordinates of the plant’s location, pictures of the plant, the names of the people who worked on the project and the date collected, was submitted to GenBank by Biotech Academy Director, Michele Morris. Researchers around the world can now view this DNA sequence and compare it to other similar species.

The work done by the Biotech Academy students was part of a project called DNA barcoding. Researchers around the world contribute to this work through the International Barcode of Life. The goal of the project is to use a short section of DNA from a standardized region of the genome of plants and animals to identify them, similar to how a barcode on a product in the grocery store allows it to be identified by a scanner. There are small changes in the DNA sequence of this standardized region that are unique to each species, allowing identification of a plant or animal from the DNA alone. The barcode sequences are maintained in a reference library of DNA that can be used to identify unknown specimens.

The HudsonAlpha Biotech Academy is a four-week, 4-hour/day intensive exploration of molecular biology, genetic engineering, DNA Barcoding and synthetic biology. Held at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, students are exposed to world-class researchers and scientists and cutting-edge technology. The Academy instructors focus on providing a strong foundation in molecular biology skills as well as introducing the students to the latest research in genetics, genomics and biotechnology. Attendees are rising juniors or seniors that have been nominated by their school Life Science teachers. One student from each high school in the Madison County, Madison City and Huntsville City systems is invited to attend.

The submission can be viewed at the link below or by searching for the accession number KM593689 in the GenBank nucleotide database.