The first step in the laboratory is DNA extraction. All of the plates, each containing 95 specimens or legs, are incubated overnight in a special solution that extracts DNA from the cells. The next day, the DNA is separated from other cell materials using one of our robots, lovingly called Franklin (after Rosalind Franklin, who helped to discover the structure of DNA in the 1950s).
The second step in our analysis employs a clever technique called the polymerase chain reaction or PCR. By adding a cocktail of reagents to the DNA, then rapidly heating and cooling it several times, we can create millions of copies of the DNA barcode region for the sample of DNA in each well. All these copies are necessary for the final laboratory step — DNA sequencing.
Each well is analyzed by one of our DNA sequencers, using a laser to read the letters (A, C, G, and T) of each DNA barcode. And there you have it, that’s how we determine the DNA barcode for each insect (or other invertebrate) caught in a Malaise Trap!