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Paul Hebert to talk at the Starmus-festival


What does Stephen Hawking, Buzz Aldrin, Paul Hebert, Oliver Stone and 10 Nobel Laureates have in common? They will all speak at the Starmus Festival: Life and the Universe in Trondheim, June 18-23, 2017!

STARMUS – Life and the Universe

Starmus is a grandiose festival. With it’s star-speckled list of speakers and artists, Starmus has as goal to bring an understanding and appreciation of science to the public at large. This is the fourth Starmus festival and as in previous years, astronauts, physicists, astrophysicists, biologists and musicians will be speaking about life, the universe and things that (dark) matter. The program is still under development, but it is already certain that the festival in Trondheim might become a ‘once in a lifetime experience’.

So, what will the ‘father of DNA barcoding’ Paul Hebert speak about in this setting? Could it be the Planetary Biodiversity Mission? The microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, the molecular biologist Susumu Tonegawa, the astrobiologist Nathalie A. Cabrol, the marine biologist Nancy Knowlton and the neurobiologists May-Britt and Edvard Moser are other famous biologists in the program.

In addition, three moonwalkers will have a public conversation about the moon and beyond. That will also be interesting, guaranteed.


DNAqua-Net: a COST-Action for developing new genetic tools for bioassessment of aquatic ecosystems in Europe



From the COST-Action CA152119 websiteThe protection, preservation and restoration of aquatic ecosystems and their functions is of global importance. For European states it became legally binding mainly through the EU-Water Framework Directive (WFD). In order to assess the ecological status of a given water body, aquatic biodiversity data are obtained and compared to a reference water body. The quantified mismatch thus obtained determines the extent of potential management actions. The current approach to biodiversity assessment is based on morpho-taxonomy. This approach has many drawback such as being time consuming, limited in temporal and spatial resolution, and error-prone due to variation of individual taxonomic expertise of the analysts. Novel genomic tools can overcome many of the aforesaid problems and could complement or even replace traditional bioassessment. Yet, a plethora of approaches are independently developed in different institutions, thereby hampering any concerted routine application. The goal of this Action is to nucleate a group of researchers across disciplines with the task to identify gold-standard genomic tools and novel eco-genomic indices for routine application for biodiversity assessments of European water bodies. Furthermore, DNAqua-Net will provide a platform for training of the next generation of European researchers preparing them for the new technologies. Jointly with water managers, politicians and other stakeholders, the group will develop a conceptual framework for the standard application of eco-genomic tools as part of legally binding assessments.

The inaugural meeting of DNAqua-Net was held in the COST-building in Brussels on October 20, 2016. The COST-Action was formally accepted and chair and working group leaders were elected. So far 31 countries are associated with the action, med representatives in the Management Committee nominated by national COST-coordinators. The delegates from Norway are Trude Vrålstad (Norwegian Veterinary Institute) and Torbjørn Ekrem (NTNU University Museum). The first conference of DNAqua-Net will be held in Essen, Germany, March 6-8, 2017, with post conference meetings in the five working groups (leads in parentheses):

  • DNA Barcode References (Torbjørn Ekrem, Norge + Fédor Ciampor, Slovakia)
  • Biotic Indices & Metrics (Jan Pawlowski, Sveits + Maria Kahlert, Sverige)
  • Lab & Field Protocols (Kat Bruce, UK + Emre Keskin, Tyrkia)
  • Data Analysis & Storage (Kessy Abarenko, Estland + Diego Fontaneto, Italia)
  • Implementation Strategies & Legal Issues (Patricia Mergen, Belgia + Daniel Hering, Tyskland)

participants-dnaqua-net-meeting-brusselsParticipants at the inaugural meeting in the COST-Action DNAqua-Net.

Natural History Museum at the Oslo Science Fair


The Natural History Museum in Oslo and NorBOL participated at the Oslo Science Fair September 23-24, 2016. At our stand we communicated challenges with biological, morphological and genetic species definitions. Fifteen hundered shots of juice were served with the task of identifying which three fruits the juice was composed of. To help them with the task, people received visual DNA barcodes of the fruits as well as a reference library of fruit barcodes. Many learned how DNA barcoding can be used to determine the content of food.

Gunnhild med juicenGunnhild Marthinsen serves unknown juice at the Oslo Science Fair. Photo Dag Inge Danielsen CC-BY.

juice-testingPhD-student Sonja Kistenich shows how DNA barcoding works. Photo Gunnhild Marthinsen CC-BY.


NorBOL at Researchers’ Night 2016


On Friday September 23 time had come for Researchers’ Night in the NTNU Science Building. Like previous years, the interest for participation was great and more than 1100 high school students trawled the stands, attended lectures and visited labs at NTNU. NorBOL was present with a stand on DNA barcoding and LifeScanner.

NorBOL at RNXiaolong and Aina welcome visitiors to NorBOL’s stand at Researchers’ Night 2016. Photo Torbjørn Ekrem CC-BY.

At our stand, students and teachers were challanged to do practical DNA barcoding: Three visualized DNA sequences from unknown prey had been retrieved from a boreal owl pellet and could be compared to known sequences in a reference library. The task was not necessarily simple and created good discussions among the participants. As prize and proof of particpation, the stydents received #mydnabarcode stickers.

Referansebibliotek RNTorbjørn explains how DNA barcoding works. Photo Xiaolong Lin CC-BY.


Active visitors at the NorBOL stand. Video Torbjørn Ekrem CC-BY.

Thanks to Aina, Erik and Xiaolong for excellent contributions to the NorBOL stand and Researcher’s Night!


Mushroom Day at Tromsø University Museum


Every year in the mushroom-season, the Tromsø Mushroom Society arrange mushroom check-points at the Tromsø University Museum where the general public can have their collected mushrooms identified. They also invite to guided tours and celebrate “Mushroom Day”. NorBOL attended all check-points so far this year and has received plenty of species for DNA barcoding.

Sopp fra soppens dagOne of the sampled mushrooms: Hygrocybe cf. pratensis. Photo Marie K. Føreid Merkel CC-BY.

“Mushroom Day” was held at Tromsø University Museum on September 4th and included an exhibition of freshly picked specimens as well as the regular check-point and a local guided tour. NorBOL attended the event and received about 20 new species for barcoding. Most of these came from the exhibition made by the Mushroom Society, but some were also donated by the visitors.Sopputstilling på soppens dagMushroom exhibition on Mushroom Day. Photo Marie K. Føreid Merkel CC-BY.

During collection of specimens for the exhibition, one new species to North Norway was found. This specimen will be barcoded. NorBOL staff used the opportunity to talk to visitors about DNA barcoding, the work that they do and how mushrooms are preserved and stored in the scientific collections at the museum. So far, NorBOL har received more than 120 species from the area of Tromsø, with great help from the Mushroom Society.

We hope that the last to check-point dates (11 and 18 September) will bring in even more specimens, and that we can continue our outreach on DNA-barcoding to the general public. Thanks to the Tromsø Mushroom Society for excellent collaboration!

Marie K. Føreid Merkel

Barcode of Life conference heading for Kruger National Park


Imagine this: You wake up before the sun rises, find your guide and get set for today’s “morning drive” to watch elephants, lions and rhinoceros as the first rays of sun hit the bushland. You return to the camp and enjoy an excellent breakfast before the first plenary of the day on environmental barcoding of North American wetlands. This dream can come true before you realize: The seventh Barcode of Life conference will be held in Kruger National Park, South Africa, 20-24 November 2017.

Photo: T. Ekrem CC-BYElephants in South Africa. Photo Torbjørn Ekrem CC-NC-SA.

The international conferences on DNA barcoding have been held every second year since 2005 (in London) and have continuously increased in size and content. The participants come from all over the world and present their research, educational programs and public outreach initiatives. All aspects of DNA barcoding and metabarcoding are covered and the presentations can include anything from development of methods and taxonomy to citizen science, applied ecology and nature management. The last meeting in Guelph (2015) had 600 participants from 60 countries. Time will tell if the upcoming meeting can beat those numbers…

The scientific program for the meeting is under development, but several invited speakers have already accepted. The theme of the conference will be “Exploring mega-diverse biotas with DNA barcodes”. Registration will open December 1, 2016 and end November 1, 2017. The main lecture hall has room for 700 guests, so the meeting probably will not be fully booked the first week. Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to sign up early!

See you in Kruger!

Winner of NorBOL’s photo challenge


We congratulate Prof. Henrik Glenner at the Department of Biology, University of Bergen as the winner of NorBOL’s photo challenge! His photo will illustrate the front page of norbol.org.

Semibalanus_settlement_barcode-webColony of Semibalanus balanoides with recently settled larvae and associated DNA barcode. Photo: Henrik Glenner CC-BY.

Halfway there


Congratulations to NorBOL for reaching 10 000 barcoded species! We are now halfway to our target of DNA barcoding 20 000 species from Norway. The benchmark was celebrated at the NorBOL steering group meeting in March and covered by the journal Gemini and forskning.no. Congratulations to everyone involved!

NorBOL-cakePhoto: Torbjørn Ekrem, graphics: Elin Sandbakk, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet. CC-BY.

Students map insect diversity in the Botanical Garden in Oslo


NorBOL and the Natural History Museum in Oslo have this winter worked together with a biology-class at Hersleb upper secondary school in doing an invetory of the insect diversity in the Botanical Garden.

Malaisefelle bot hageThe Malaise trap in the Botanical Garden in Oslo. Photo Gunnhild Marthinsen (CC-BY).

Last August, the students deployed a Malaise-trap in the garden and helped collecting the samples. They then sorted the insects to what they thought were different species based on appearance. One hundred and fifty animals were sampled and sent to the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics in Guelph for sequencing.

The students will now compare the sequencing results with their own identifications.

sortering-labEager students sort the Malaise Trap samples. Photo Gunnhild Marthinsen (c).

Through this project the students learn about species diversity and DNA analyses. They experience how difficult it is to determine species based on appearance, especially when not being an expert, and that DNA barcoding works well both for identification of species and for getting an overview of the species diversity.

The project revealed a high diversity of Diptera and Hymenoptera in the Botanical Garden; ca 80 species were found among the 150 that were submitted for analyses. Among the collected species were also a few rarities that are only known from a few localities in Norway; one of the species can even turn out to be new to Norway.

Gunnhild Marthinsen, Natural History Museum, Oslo

Ancient origin of blue cuckoo eggs


How is egg color inherited in brood-parasitic common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus)? A study recently published in Nature Communications give answers, and has an interesting relationship to DNA barcodes.

The authors, fronted by Frode Fossøy at the NTNU Department of Biology, analyzed both mitochondrial and nuclear markers in a wide geographical range of cuckoo populations including several closely related species. They found unambiguous evidence for maternal inheritance of egg coloration in the brood-parasitic Cuculus canorus. Moreover, they showed that the blue egg color of C. canorus parasites on redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) originated around 2.6 MYA, in an ancestral mitochondrial lineage shared between the subspecies C. c. canorus and C. c. bakeri. This lineage is genetically divergent from and even paraphyletic compared other C. canorus populations and related Cuculus species.

Fig2Partial figure from Fossøy et al. (2016) showing haplotype relationship between C. canorus populations laying differently colored eggs. DNA barcodes (b) and part of female specific w-chromosome (c).

So what is the relationship with DNA barcodes? Well, the deep genetic divergence between populations of C. c. canorus was initially detected through a decent library of partial COI-sequences (barcode region) and triggered further analysis of other markers to determine the evolutionary history of this phenomenon. This time, divergent DNA barcodes did not indicate cryptic species, but helped placing a most interesting piece in cuckoo evolution puzzle.

Fossøy, F. et al. 2016. Ancient origin and maternal inheritance of blue cuckoo eggs. Nature Communications 6:10272 doi: 10.1038/ncomms10272.