Inspiring STEM careers through a hands-on Everglades microbiome study | 1/22/2020 | Staff
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The Florida Everglades evokes images of fanboats skimming over swamps, while alligators peer through the waters and clouds of insects hover just above. Described as a "river of grass" that stretches some 580,000 square miles across southern Florida, they encompass a wide range of ecosystems ranging from wetlands to tree islands to cattails.

In 2018, the US Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), embarked on a pilot project with biology students from Boca Raton Community High School in Palm Beach County, Florida. The class sought to apply the latest molecular techniques to learn more about the microbial communities in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a 226-square mile area of the northern Everglades in Palm Beach County, and particularly about the microbes that play roles in the methane cycle. Their data report, which provides the only known reference microbiome data sets for the Loxahatchee Refuge, was published in the journal Environmental Microbiome.

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"Before JGI was involved, I was not sure we could even complete a full project. Every other group I contacted was happy to offer advice but declined to offer actual scientific help," said Jonathan Benskin, who teaches the A-Level Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Biology class at Boca Raton Community High School. "I can't thank JGI enough for being willing to take a risk on a group of public high school students to see this project through to completion. JGI does not only contribute to the body of current scientific knowledge, they are also equipping the next generation of scientists that will help shape all of our futures."

Benskin wanted to give his high school juniors a research project experience and one of his email inquiries, sent through JGI's Integrated Microbial...
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