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Discover the Microbes Within! The HHMI Wolbachia Project
Michael P. Weiner1 and Barton Slatko2
1Affomix Corporation, New Haven, CT, USA
2New England Biolabs, Ipswich, MA, USA

Both authors are members of BioTechniques' Editorial Board
BioTechniques, Vol. 46, No. 7, June 2009, p. 497
Full Text (PDF)

This month, we focus on a set of experiments that combine collection and rough identification of insects in a very interesting way and then determine the occurrence of an endosymbiont (Wolbachia) that is present in relatively high frequencies: in about 70% of all insect species (and in most filarial parasitic worms). By collecting and identifying insects and subsequently using primers for 16S rDNA and mitochondrial CO1 sequence typing, one can identify the insect and then the clade (or supergroup) of the Wolbachia endosymbiont within it. These experiments are part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Precollege Science Education Initiative; the project is called “Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project,” and is sponsored by Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA. The science projects follow a set of modules (labs) that proceed from insect identification to phylogeny analysis. From sequence results, the lab modules can be either individually incorporated into daily lesson plans addressing National Science Education Standards or used throughout the school year as a coherent unit to progressively emphasize the nature of a long-term science project. The full lab series teaches observation, conceptualization, the scientific method, and major concepts in systematics and biodiversity, genomic DNA isolation, biotechnology, DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, and molecular evolution.

Courtesy of Rob Unckless. © 2009

There are professional development workshops held in the spring at the Marine Biological Laboratory and a summer student/teacher “envisionship.” The resource page for the project and links to the workshops, teachers, and a video of the process can be found at

1.) Bordenstein, S. 2007.. Focus on Microbiology Education 14:4-5.

2.) Baldo, L., J.C. Dunning Hotopp, K.A. Jolley, S.R. Bordenstein, S.A. Biber, R.R. Choudhury, C. Hayashi, M.C. Maiden, H. Tettelin, and J.H. Werren. 2006. Multilocus sequence typing system for the endosymbiont Wolbachia pipientis. Appl Environ Microbiol. 72:7098-7110.