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The Q? Blog

The Thrill of DNA Barcoding (and Frog Eggs) during My Science Internship

by Areli -- Dec 9, 2016
A girl with long brown hair pulled back, wearing a black shirt and dark-framed glasses.

Hello, my name is Areli and I am a high school senior in Arlington, Va. I was a YES! Global Genome intern in 2016.

YES! Global Genome intern Areli sequenced both plant and animal genomes during the summer of 2016. Smithsonian photo.
YES! Global Genome intern Areli sequenced both plant and animal genomes during the summer of 2016. Smithsonian photo.

This summer I was an intern in the Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) Global Genome program, where I got to explore the world of genomics in depth for the first time. At first I was skeptical about whether I was going to like it, but now I have something new that interests me!

Marshelder plant. Smithsonian photo. The program started off with an intensive, two-week bootcamp where we learned everything from DNA extraction to gel electrophoresis (which we used to check the size and quantity of DNA) and how to utilize the equipment necessary for our summer with our mentors. For the boot camp project we extracted Iva annua (Marshelder plant) genomic DNA and then we sequenced the genome using Next Generation Sequencing. My favorite step was looking at the genome using a computer software program that showed us all the nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA) in the genome. During this step we had to clean the DNA and make sure the nucleotides translated into amino acids and there were no ambiguities (differences) between nucleotides from the two complementary strands of DNA. I also think this was my favorite step because there was nothing that I could break and I was not handling anything expensive.

Frog Eggs - same or different species graphic by Areli, images by D. G. Mulcahy.Once the two weeks of bootcamp were over I was both eager and nervous to start working with my mentor on DNA barcoding some amphibians and reptiles from Myanmar. Luckily another YES! Global Genome intern and I were placed together with the same mentor working on the same project, but working on answering different questions concerning different genera. Polypedates was my genus of focus. Polypedates is a frog genus found in Southeast Asia, which includes Myanmar. These frogs are foam-nesters, which just means that they lay their eggs in foam instead of water to keep them moisturized throughout development. On my mentor’s trip to Myanmar he found some foam nests on the vegetation and others on the ground. To verify what species of Polypedates formed its nest in each location, I used DNA barcoding. With this technique I was able to figure out that the foam nests were indeed made by different species. 

Besides just working with Polypedates, I also barcoded close to 400 specimens my mentor collected on his trip to Myanmar. Barcoding this quantity of specimens was something that I would have thought impossible at the beginning of the summer. I started out not knowing anything at all and came out with extraordinary experience. This past summer has opened doors for me and showed me a whole different side of science that I never knew before. Being part of YES! is an experience like no other and every high school student in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia should know about it.

Categories: YES! Teen Interns