Molecular ecology is a unique opportunity to dig into today's advanced genetic toolbox and learn quintessential molecular techniques that provide a foundation for addressing prevalent ecological questions. The class progresses through the steps of genetic analysis from DNA extraction, through PCR, to data gathering techniques including DNA sequencing and RFLP. Technical skills learned in the first part of the quarter are applied to a final class project that is conducted during the final 2-3 weeks.
The 2008-09 class project, entitled "Barcoding Wal-Mart", presented an
opportunity for students to address questions of the accuracy of product labeling and sustainability of seafood samples acquired from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Gilroy, CA. Students extracted, amplified and sequenced chordates (fish) and
arthropods (shrimp, lobster) and mollusks (scallops, mussels), compared sample sequences to online identification databases (NCBI Blast and Barcoding of Life
Database (BOLD)), and used phylogenetic analysis programs (PAUP) to further
investigate the identity of seafood.
Different from year to year, the final project serves as an opportunity for students to apply molecular skills, address specific questions and write scientific papers, fundamental skills that students can carry with them for future research. Other class projects have been published by students on the identity of sea horses for sale in Chinese apothecary shops (Sanders et al. 2008), and the real species that you eat when you buy Pacific Red Snapper (Logan et al. 2008). You can also see coverage of this by famous chef Lynne Rossetto Casper’s NPR cooking show, "Splendid Table". [video][audio]