CSU Graduate Student Wins Award at International Barcode of Life Conference

Columbus State University graduate student, Lauren Whitehurst, recently won the Genome Award for Best Poster Presentation at the International Barcode of Life Conference at Kruger National Park in South Africa.  The prestigious scientific meeting brings together nearly 500 delegates from 73 nations to share ideas in DNA barcoding.

“Winning this award underscores the international recognition that this research is receiving,” said Lauren’s supervisor, Dr. Kevin Burgess, Professor of Ecological Genetics in CSU’s Biology Department.

Whitehurst’s poster entitled “Developing a DNA barcoding pipeline for the identification and prevention of invasive plant propagules entering the Port of Savannah” focuses on preventing invasive species from entering the Port of Savannah in Geogria by using DNA barcoding. It was done in collaboration with her supervisors Dr. Burgess, Dr. Rima Lucardi of the U.S. Forest Service, and Dr. Travis Marsico of Arkansas State University.

“The Port of Savannah receives container shipments from all over the world, and sometimes these cargo ships accidentally bring in the seeds of noxious weeds from different areas,” said Dr. Burgess. “Since we cannot easily determine what the seeds are or if they are potential noxious weeds, Lauren uses a genetic technqiue called DNA barcoding that can be used to identify what types of seeds are entering the US, should they be of concern, and how many are incoming. Her work will assist US Customs and Border Patrol agents in their goal of preventing invasive species from entering the port and being transported elsewhere in the country.”

Whitehurst, a graduate student in the Biology Department at CSU, attended the conference with Dr. Burgess and CSU lecturer, Dr. John Hanson. The group participated in field collections of invasive plants in an African savanna as part of a pre-conference workshop on LifeScanner, a user-friendly way to use DNA barcoding to identify unknown samples. The group also worked closely with representatives from the University of Johannesburg and the African Center for DNA Barcoding to assist with final preparations for the conference. At the conference, Dr. Burgess gave an oral presentation entitled “Phylogenetic analysis of Andean tree communities along an elevational gradient in Ecuador” in collaboration with graduate alumni, Samantha Worthy, who is now in a PHD program at the University of Maryland.

The team’s abstracts are now published in an online version of the journal Genome, which can be found at http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/toc/gen/60/11.