DNA in My Garden: What is that bug that keeps eating my cantaloupes?

Or maybe you are having issues with some aphids that have been attacking grandma’s blue ribbon county fair roses that seem almost post-apocalyptic in their resistance to every method you have tried to wipe them out, including throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at them. Maybe you have discovered something that needs further elucidating, something slightly different that can either change your approach in your gardening arsenal or something as big that a thesis is begging to be researched and written.

So you have a strange insect that has been poking holes in the bottom of all those luscious cantaloupes you have been tending to. You cut that cantaloupe open and something vibrantly colored and slightly vicious looking locks eyes with you, something that stumps even the precursory Internet search. Instead of calling the fire brigade, pull out some tweezers and drop the little guy into a sterile container. Then take some deep breaths and remind yourself it is all for the good of science.

 

Or maybe you think there is something in the soil of your garden that has been causing havoc, is undetectable by your eyes alone, but the crime scene investigator inside you needs to identify it. It could also be there is a bacterium in your water supply from the well you tapped that makes every crop of corn you plant a bumper crop, a bacteria that remains unidentified but incredibly beneficial in its relationship with the nutrients contained in your farm’s topsoil. Why not identify what bacteria it is so that you can ensure the survival of nature’s little helper?

Whether it’s a pesky insect or an intrusive fungus, have no fear…DNA is here!! Or at least DNA sequencing is here in a less superhero but still very fun kind of way. Citizen science is becoming more and more common in the gardening communities and for good reason. DNA sequencing costs are lower than they have ever been, and scientists are able to deliver analysis in an easy to understand manner that even an 8th grader could understand. I know, I know, methods such as whole genome sequencing or metagenome sequencing can sound intimidating, but they don’t have to be. A hobby gardener can take advantage of genome sequencing to identify all the creepy crawlies that are making their green thumb look at little brown and wilted, or they can judge how well a fertilizer is boosting the health of their soil using 16s rRNA sequencing. With all the time and effort it takes to maintain a beautiful garden, why not try gain a leg up on the Jones’ next-door and take advantage of low-cost DNA sequencing and be sure that you take home yard of the month award!! DNA is no longer just for the science nerds; DNA sequencing is now accessible to the inner nerd in all of us!!