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Pioneering project documents our plant life

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The Island's plant population is being archived for posterity and DNA barcoded as part of a pioneering conservation project to create a genetic library.

The initiative has seen experts from Columbus State University join forces with conservationists in Bermuda to take samples of all the Island's endemic and invasive flora.

Two cuttings from 230 species have already been taken, the first is pressed and dried for an album that will be put on exhibit at the National History Museum's herbarium, while the second sample will be sent to the Columbus State's museum.

Small leaf sections from each species have also been taken that are then preserved in silica gel and transported to Columbus State's laboratories for DNA extraction.

The Columbus State side of the project has been spearheaded by Dr Kevin Burgess, the college's associate professor and herbarium curator, while the Bermuda operation has involved Dr David Wingate, Lisa Greene of the Natural History Museum and Alison Copeland of Conservation Services.

“DNA barcoding has been proposed as an effective method for documenting the earth's biodiversity,” said Dr Burgess.

“This project in Bermuda is part of the worldwide initiative to establish plant DNA barcode libraries to document local floras. In the Columbus Sate University molecular lab graduate students working on the project isolate DNA from each sample and DNA sequence the unique genetic identifier or DNA barcode for each species.

“These barcodes will then be deposited on the Barcode of Life Data System as the representative DNA barcode library for the Flora of Bermuda.

“Researchers across the globe will be interested in how the barcodes for species found in Bermuda compare with similar species in other localities, filling a unique piece of the puzzle in documenting the earth's biodiversity.”

This ongoing survey of the Island's entire plant population is the first of its kind to take place in Bermuda.

Dr Burgess has visited Bermuda three times since 2013 to work with conservationists to collect samples from nature reserves across the Island.

He was back in Bermuda again this week to continue that work as well as provide a presentation to the Garden Club of Bermuda with Dr Wingate.

The DNA extraction process in the US is expected to begin in May while Dr Burgess will be back in Bermuda again in September.

Dr Wingate told The Royal Gazette: “The barcoding will record which species are unique to Bermuda and just how unique they are.

“The process will help us to understand what plants were introduced to Bermuda and which are native to the Island.”

Taking samples: Dr Kevin Burgess (left) and graduate student Scott Silvis
Recording for posterity: Dr Burgess and graduate student Scott Silvis pressing a maidenhair fern collected at Blue Hole Park

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Published March 18, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated March 18, 2015 at 1:55 am)

Pioneering project documents our plant life

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