Winter 2010: Of Note

Grasshopper stuck on windshield

Christian Sawicki/iStockphoto

A Bug’s Life

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By Carol Clark

The next time you take a road trip, take a moment to consider the bug splatter on the front of your car—it might prove to be more interesting than your vacation photos.

“It turns out that your car is a sampling device for understanding the biodiversity of all the places you’ve been,” says Assistant Professor James Taylor, a computational biologist at Emory.

Genome Research recently published a paper by Taylor and collaborators that applied advanced DNA sequencing techniques traditionally used on microbial samples to look at insect biodiversity. “We were curious whether these techniques would work for more complex organisms,” Taylor says.

To collect genetic material for the study, they used samples from the bumper and windshield of moving vehicles on long drives: one from Pennsylvania to Connecticut, and the other from Maine to New Brunswick, Canada.

“We found that there is a huge amount of insect diversity, but what was really surprising was to see the enormous amount of novel sequence,” Taylor says. “It’s indicative of how poorly we have sampled the whole tree of life in genome research so far. There’s an enormous amount of species out there.”

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