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What Can’t be Measured Won’t be Managed: Scientists and U.S Environmental Protection Agency Work Together to Conserve the Great Lakes

Great Lakes DNA Barcoding Project Team
The Great Lakes DNA Barcoding Project Team

June 25, 2020

The Great Lakes DNA Barcoding Project is an international collaboration that will enable the detection and identification of aquatic species in the Great Lakes using a novel genetic approach. The collaboration is supported by the GLRI and involves several taxonomic experts, molecular ecologists, and aquatic biologists in both the U.S. and Canada. Collaborators on the project are from the U.S. EPA, Cornell University, Buffalo State College, University of Notre Dame, Central Michigan University, and the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph.

Great Lakes
The Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s surface freshwater and are an important resource for agriculture, fishing, recreation, and international shipping. Credit: 2013 National Geographic Society; Watershed defined by Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework.

DNA barcoding is a promising technique for detecting and identifying individual species in large samples. The technique is used to simultaneously make copies of short genetic sequences from a specific region of DNA from every individual in a sample. These copies are then identified by comparing them to a comprehensive reference database containing known genetic sequences of Great Lakes species. The technique is expected to improve scientists’ ability to identify microscopic species in aquatic samples, which normally requires taxonomists and requires substantial resources.

Despite a very large number of DNA sequences in the reference database, Great Lakes invertebrate taxonomic groups are significantly underrepresented. The DNA barcoding technique can only successfully identify individuals in a sample if genetic information about each individual’s species is already included in the reference database. To improve the utility of the DNA barcoding technique and provide better genetic resources for Great Lakes monitoring, the Great Lakes DNA Barcoding Project aims to increase the number of genetic sequences from invertebrate Great Lakes species. This includes collecting species that are missing from the database, taxonomically identifying and sequencing the specimens, adding their genetic information to the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD) database, and updating an inventory of aquatic fauna in the Great Lakes. This will make DNA barcoding more effective, improve scientists’ overall ability to monitor ecosystem health, allow rapid detection of invasive species, and support efforts to safeguard biodiversity in the Great Lakes.

Read the full article by Barcode Bulletin.

The Great Lakes DNA Barcoding Project Team is: Bret Coggins, Lars Rudstam, Susan Daniel, Adam Frankiewicz, James Watkins, Beth Whitmore, Joe Connolly, Sara Westergaard, Michael Pfrender, Bilgenur Baloglu, Kristy Deiner, Ed DeWalt, Alexander Karatayev, Christopher Marshall, Lyubov Burlakova. Not pictured: David Lodge, Kara Andres, and Jose Andres. George Rogalskyj and Erik Pilgrim.