Buggy Barcodes

ResMed partners with UC San Diego and the International Barcode of Life to study biodiversity

October 7, 2015

insect trap in a field

The insect trap set up at ResMed to study insect biodiversity. The project was made possible with a $45,000 gift from the company.

William Valencia, ResMed

With coastal plain, mountains and desert all within its borders, San Diego County is regarded as one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Now, thanks to support from locally based medical device giant ResMed, our knowledge of that biodiversity is expanding.

ResMed donated $45,000 to UC San Diego to support a research study of insect biodiversity in partnership with the International Barcode of Life (IBOL), and the San Diego Barcode of Life, a local nonprofit dedicated to advancing our biodiversity understanding.

ResMed’s gift funds the DNA barcode sequencing of specimens caught at ResMed’s nine acre site in San Diego (the company’s local headquarters in Kearny Mesa), as well as set-up, maintenance and monitoring of an insect trap by the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences professor Joshua Kohn; Heather Henter, academic coordinator of the school’s Natural Reserve System; and their students. As part of the unique project, spanning over 80 consecutive weeks, specimens caught in the trap are sent to the International Barcode of Life labs at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

The DNA barcode is a specific short sequence within the genome that uniquely identifies a species. The barcode sequence can distinguish species at all life stages, uncover cryptic species or even identify new species.

David Dannecker, a graduate student who collected weekly samples from the trap at ResMed, commented: “Understanding local biodiversity is very important. This project allows us to consider how species distributions are affected by land development, in comparison with specimens collected from undeveloped local locations, like the San Dieguito River Park reserve.”

Since the inception of the project, more than 8,000 specimens from the ResMed site have been collected and barcoded. More than 100 of the insects collected had no previous DNA barcode on record. New DNA barcodes are logged into the Barcode of Life Database, a global reference library of barcode sequences. The goal of the IBOL consortium of scientists is to barcode every species. And while an inventory of life is possible, the effort is just beginning.

“We have an abiding interest in science and technology,” said Peter Farrell, ResMed founder and chairman of the board. “It is not just an ability to name the species, but also to understand their habits, whether they are endangered, whether they are a danger to us, and so forth.” ResMed produced a short video to illustrate the project.

ResMed’s donation to UC San Diego included a $5,000 stipend for Dannecker to support his work on the project. “The gift was a huge help,” said Dannecker. “It came at just the right time to help me cover my expenses as a graduate student.”

Added Dannecker: “But more importantly, it is wonderful to receive support from a source outside of academia for this type of research. It helps broaden the message of the importance of biodiversity.” Dannecker co-authored the project abstract presented at the 6th International Barcode of Life Conference in August 2015.

IBOL founder, Paul Hebert, creator of biodiversity DNA barcoding, applauded the project: "The ResMed donation and the other DNA barcode activities in the San Diego region are exciting,” said Hebert. “They represent the leading edge of a scientific program that will, over the next few years, provide a model how biodiversity assessments should be done.”

The ResMed project is just one of several initiatives within the San Diego Biodiversity Project, led by Kohn and Henter, and in partnership with the San Diego Barcode of Life. Alumni and friends now have the opportunity to support undergraduate students using DNA barcoding to better understand biodiversity at the Scripps Coastal Reserve. Learn more and make a gift to support “Barcoding Bug DNA” through UC San Diego’s Crowdsurf fundraising platform. The campaign will run through October 27.

To learn more about supporting biodiversity projects at UC San Diego, please contact our Development staff.