by | May 25, 2021 | 0 comments

Barcoding the Antarctic One Invertebrate at a Time

The icy waters of the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean may seem inhospitable, but they are teeming with life! Now, thanks to Northeastern University Professor Bill Detrich and former OGL scientist Annie Evankow, OGL is sharing some of that spectacular marine diversity with the research world.  

A consummate scientist and explorer, Professor Detrich has made more than 20 research expeditions to the Southern Ocean over the past 40 years. On one of his trips aboard the US Research Vessel Laurence M. Gould, he and his postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Jacob Daane, trawled for benthic life along the Antarctic Peninsula. They collected a variety of marine invertebrates, including sea stars, sea cucumbers, and octopuses, and donated the nearly 50 species to OGL. 

That’s when Annie Evankow stepped in. Evankow, now a researcher at the University of Oslo, worked tirelessly to add those specimens and their DNAs to OGL’s collections. She and research technician Dave Stein then sequenced a small piece of the genome of each specimen called the DNA barcode segment. Every species has a slightly different version of this gene segment, so scientists can use its sequence like a grocery store barcode to identify and track species, and to learn about their biology and behavior.  

But Evankow did not stop there. To make sure that her work had the greatest impact, she deposited her sequences to the publicly available BOLD database so that, as she puts it, “Anyone anywhere can access [them] and incorporate [them] into their research project.” The information that scientists like Detrich and Evankow contribute to public databases is critical to many different types of research, from identifying food to studying interactions between species. 

The collection features a diverse array of sea stars from five different families, including Odontasteridae (left) and Goniasteridae (right). [photo credit: Jacob Daane] 

Sadly, climate change is already having a dramatic effect on Antarctica, and it will continue to do so—but the samples and data that Detrich and Evankow have generously shared will make it easier for scientists to study and protect this fascinating ecosystem. 

Curious about the Antarctic samples? Search for “ANTRC” here and learn more about this project! 

Want to help OGL collect genetic information to aid scientific research worldwide? Support OGL here

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