GrowNextGen leader Zack Bateson facilitated the last section of the 2020 virtual Ag Biotech Academy, joining the group from his home in North Dakota for a bioinformatics session. Bateson introduced participants to the National Center for Biotechnology Information website which hosts a database of genetic sequences.

Bateson is the lead research scientist at the National Agricultural Genotyping Center and a part-time instructor in the Biological Sciences Department at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota. He wrote the What is Bioinformatics? curriculum, available on GrowNextGen that this activity is based on.

This bioinformatics lesson is great for virtual learning—all that is needed is a computer and access to the internet. Bioinformatics is a merger of several disciplines and it has many applications, such as genome sequencing and analysis, protein structure analysis, gene discovery (insect and disease resistance, improved nutritional quality, drought resistance), and pathogen and disease discovery and control. BLAST, Basic local alignment search tool, looks at specific pieces of a DNA sequence to find a match.

Participants were put into break out rooms and given unique DNA sequences to submit, BLAST, and identify. Knowing what is in the soil helps identify the problems on the farm and make recommendations to address them.

To see how to use this lesson with your students, check out this video!