NYC Urban Barcode Project

The Urban Barcode Project (UBP) is a science competition spanning the five boroughs of New York City made possible by funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Just as a unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each item for sale in a store, a DNA barcode is a DNA sequence that uniquely identifies each species of living thing. In the Urban Barcode Project, student research teams use DNA barcoding to explore biodiversity in New York City, including:

  • Sampling biodiversity in a park, garden, office, or school.
  • Checking for invasive plant or animal species. Monitoring animal movements or migrations.
  • Identifying exotic or endangered food products in markets.
  • Detecting food or product fraud.

The competition is open to NYC high school students enrolled in grades 9–12. Teams of two to four students work with a teacher sponsor to submit a project proposal for a June or October 2011 deadline. Proposals will be judged for originality, creativity, relevance, plausibility, and scientific merit. The top 100 teams are invited to compete in the Urban Barcode Project. Teams must complete their projects by the spring of 2012 and present their work at a project symposium. The best overall project wins the Grand Prize of $10,000, and an additional $10,000 in runner-up prizes are awarded.

Sponsoring teachers must participate in a 6-hour training session, which dovetails with our existing training program sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Each successful team has free access to everything needed for their DNA barcode experiments, including equipment, protocols, and reagents. Equipment footlockers are available for use by individual schools or for groups of nearby schools to share. During the term of the project, we expect to process ~10,000 DNA sequences. Teams may work on their projects at summer workshops and Open Lab days at designated locations.

Teams are assigned a mentor from a NYC university, museum, or other scientific institution to answer technical questions and provide advice. Many mentors are drawn from five NYC institutions collaborating on the project: AMNH, New York Academy of Sciences, New York Botanical Garden, Prospect Park Zoo, and The Rockefeller University. The project’s scientific advisor, Mark Stoeckle, is a member of The Rockefeller Program for the Human Environment. In addition to demonstrating the educational promise of DNA barcoding, Dr. Stoeckle was one of the organizers of the 2003 CSHL Banbury meeting that launched the field of DNA barcoding and serves on iBoL’s Scientific Steering Committee.

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