Barcoding Burlington Project

In fall 2013, BHS science teacher Molly Heath launched the Barcoding Burlington project in her Advanced Genetics courses. Through this new opportunity for student-centered learning, students will use DNA barcoding technology to explore topics relevant to their community.


DNA barcoding is a technique that can be used to identify organisms based on a short region of their DNA that varies between species. DNA barcodes can be used to explore the biodiversity of a particular location, check for invasive species, detect food mislabeling, and identify exotic or endangered species in food products.

Barcoding Burlington was inspired by the Urban Barcode Project (UBP) in New York City. Examples of student projects from the UBP include topics as diverse as identifying the content of Gingko products to a survey of fungal diversity in Central Park. Students have even discovered new species during their research.

The Project

  1. Students investigate community needs and form small groups to develop project proposals.
  2. Project proposals are reviewed by an authentic audience formed from community partners.
  3. After approval of their proposals, student groups collect and document samples for DNA barcoding.
  4. Students extract DNA from their samples, amplify a specific region of the DNA using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), confirm the presence of PCR product using gel electrophoresis, and then send their PCR product to Genewiz for sequencing.
  5. Students use online tools to align and identify their sequences.
  6. Students will share their results with community partners and members of the school community. In addition, the class will present the project to the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering (VASE) at their spring meeting.

Student Proposals

Camel Meat or Not?
This project investigates whether the camel meat sold in Burlington, VT ethnic markets is actually camel meat.

Chicken Nuggets: Real Chicken or Not?
This team will examine the ingredients in fast food chicken nuggets and look for unknown materials in these products.

In Danger of Giardia?
This project investigates whether runoff from farms and wastewater plants in and around Burlington affects the presence of the parasite Giardia in Burlington-area waterways, including Lake Champlain.

Local vs. Non-Local Beef
This team will compare the purity of the beef served in local and chain restaurants.

Mislabeled Sushi Fish
This project will examine the different types of fish used to make sushi in Japanese and Chinese restaurants in Burlington, Vermont. The team will also investigate the sushi products sold in major grocery stores, such as Price Chopper and Shaw’s, to determine whether the fish used in sushi are replaced by alternatives and, if so, with what products.

Tea for You and Me
This team will test six types of loose-leaf teas against bagged versions of the same six types. In particular, this project will determine whether there are fillers present in the prepackaged tea that do not occur in the loose leaf tea.

Where’s the Beef?
This project investigates whether the hamburgers served by the school cafeteria are made of beef.

To find out what students discovered, check out this blog post by Partnership fellow Erika Lowe.