Microbiology undergraduates answer their own environmental questions with eDNA sequences from samples they collected at Sedgwick Reserve

UCLA's Research Immersion Laboratory in Microbiology hit a home run after two quarters of hands-on exploration, by delivering powerful oral presentations and posters. These highlighted the capacity of eDNA to rapidly address ecological questions spanning plant growth, human impact on the environment, temporal variation in climate, and community interactions. The eDNA data were collected by the class during a field outing to Sedgwick Reserve, where they used ecological experimental plots set up by the Kraft Lab and graduate student Gaurav Kandlikar to carefully choose their question and samples of focus.

The CALeDNA program funded by the UC Conservation Genomics Consortium sequenced the eDNA in the soil samples and provided data back to the students in the form of tables consisting of species names and the number of DNA reads that were a match. Students formed hypotheses about the role of the organisms in the environment based on the observed differences among sites, and then cultured microbes to test in vitro if the organisms may have those proposed functional roles. A small group of honors students even went one step further to do sophisticated informatics analysis on the samples, which illuminated patterns of biodiversity that could inform the UCLA researchers in the Kraft lab.