Undergraduate Biology student, Helena Davies, has been on placement at the National Botanic Garden of Wales working on a ground breaking project, Barcode Wales. Helena was actively involved in the data analysis side of this project; the results of which were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Since January Helena has been helping to organize the collection of plants, processing some of the first DNA sequences in the laboratory and developing management systems to record every plant sample used. Helena explains:

“I came into the project a month or so after I started my placement at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and helped to analyse some of the data included in the paper. It was fantastic to be so involved in a project with such potential during my year in industry. Being an undergraduate I didn’t think I would be able to contribute to such high impact research, so I feel incredibly lucky to have gained this experience.”

In June, Helena was an author on a published paper on Barcode Wales, a rare achievement for an undergraduate student. Helena says,

“When I found out that I would be one of the authors on the paper I was thrilled. Seeing my name and looking at some of the figures that I had directly worked on published within the paper was fantastic. I just feel extremely fortunate and very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work on Barcode Wales.”

All the DNA barcodes assembled by the Barcode Wales project are now barcodefreely available on the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD), so they can be used by researchers throughout the world. It’s hoped the barcodes will assist in the battle against numerous diseases. For example, one of the ongoing projects between the Garden and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University will DNA barcode honey with the aim of contributing to drug discovery.

It’s also hoped DNA bar-coding may be able to help scientists combat the crisis facing pollinators like bees and hoverflies which have been dying out at an alarming rate.

Barcode Wales has been led by Dr Natasha de Vere of the National Botanic Garden of Wales with project partners from the National Museum Wales, University of the West of England, Aberystwyth University, Glamorgan University and the Botanical Society of the British Isles, with high performance computing support from HPC Wales.

Helena finished her placement at the Gardens in August, although the team’s work will continue. Helena will return to Manchester in September to enter her final year and hopes to do a PhD in plant science after she graduates.

In fact, Helena says her time at the National Botanic Garden of Wales has changed her life:

“Before I did my placement I had no idea what I wanted to do, although I knew I wanted to stay in science. But I had never even considered plants! This placement has really given me a strong direction and determination to continue in scientific research.”

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