Little is currently known about how environmental flows affect the diverse plant life found in wetlands. This resource will allow students to study the live set of data from a real ecological problem. Better understanding of environmental flows will hopefully lead to better management and monitoring of the Murray-Darling system.
LIMS lecturers, Dr Julian Pakay and Dr Fiona Carroll, in collaboration with Gavin Rees from the Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre, are developing a student resource that will collect important new data on the Basin.
The project, supported by a La Trobe Learning Innovation Grant, will create an online metagenomic resource using high throughput sequencing of environmental DNA.
Metagenomics is a powerful tool used to study genetic material (DNA) directly sampled from the environment and can provide valuable insight into the biodiversity and dynamics of microbial ecosystems without having to collect or culture organisms.
Such analyses create databases containing a wealth of information useful for uncovering new functional enzymes for biotechnology applications.
In this case, metagenomic data will be gathered by monitoring freshwater microbial communities following environmental flows in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Environmental flows are an important method for restoration of flow-degraded rivers but very little is known about how such management regimes affect the highly diverse microbial flora seen in wetlands.
A better understanding of these communities will contribute to improved monitoring and management of the sensitive Murray-Darling system.
Aside from the ecological potential, there is scope for multi-disciplinary collaboration. Primary analyses on species diversity generated by Biochemistry and Genetics students, for example, will be made available to students in ecology-themed subjects.
"Students will be working with a live data set from a real ecological problem, immersing them in authentic undergraduate research," Dr Pakay explained.
"We hope the project will promote engagement and retention of talented, research-focused students."
Leah Humphrys, Media and Communication Officer
Ph: 03 9479 5353