Creating a DNA Barcode Reference Library of Plants of Canada

My name is Jesse Sills, and I am a student employee working with BIO this summer. I just graduated with a Bachelor of Science Zoology degree, and I’m excited to be starting my post-undergraduate career working with plants and insects! I started at BIO in September 2014 as a work study student,  mainly working on databasing on all the specimen information collected for the vascular Plants of Canada project. This summer I’ll be helping out around the lab doing things like counting specimens for the School Malaise Trap Program, heading out on the BIObus to collect Ontario insect specimens, and continuing to database the Plants of Canada.

Me at my desk in the lab, with Renee, Joey, and Dan.
Me at my desk in the lab, with Renee, Joey, and Dan.
Herbarium sheet for Crataegus ursopedensis, commonly named Bear’s paw hawthorn.
Herbarium sheet for Crataegus ursopedensis, commonly named Bear’s paw hawthorn.

For the Plants of Canada project, BIO is aiming to DNA barcode every species of Canadian plant. In order to accomplish this, members of the BIO team often go out to visit museums to peruse their plant archives to find those species that we have not barcoded yet. Organizations like universities or museums will also send us their data to re-arrange into the correct format for our database. Most of the time though, information about each specimen comes in the form of a herbarium sheet, and my job is to go through them and log all of the information I can find on the sheet.

Some of the specimens on herbarium sheets we receive were collected as early as the 1800s! As long as these plants have been dried and preserved properly, we are still able to extract their DNA and barcode them. My biggest challenge is often interpreting the 100 year old handwriting of plant biologists.

Original collection information for Lechea leggittii, commonly named bead pinweed from the year 1901.
Original collection information for Lechea leggittii, commonly named bead pinweed from the year 1901.

More than one specimen of each species needs to be found, to make sure that DNA barcoding is successful. So far, we have successfully barcoded over 96% of all vascular Canadian plants, which equates to over 5000 species. There are now only about 80-100 species left for us to find!

-Jesse

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