As part of a project for their high school science class, students Brenda Tan, 17, and Matt Cost, 18, may have discovered a new species of cockroach while collecting samples in a New York City supermarket.
The two teens were acting in their roles as "DNAHouse investigators", according to their supervisor Mark Stoeckle, an expert on genomics and DNA barcoding at Rockefeller University. Designed to teach young aspiring scientists more about genetic research, the project gives students the opportunity to use the Barcode of Life Database and GenBank to identify samples they collect themselves.
Of course, no one expected results quite so surprising.
"The cockroach is genetically modified. Species don't differ more than 1 percent, this cockroach is 4 percent different, which suggests it is a new species of cockroach," Stoeckle told AFP. "We think that the museums of natural history in Paris or New York could be interested."
And the cockroach was just one of many shocking samples the pair collected while wandering the streets and buildings of the Big Apple. All in all, the American Museum of Natural History laboratory identified 170 genetic codes from the samples collected by Tan and Cost, leading the researchers to identify 95 different animal species. Aside from the new roach, the pair's samples also yielded DNA from an ostrich, paddlefish, bison and even a giant flying squid.
It's a stark reminder of just how small the world really is. And while the origin of the new roach remains a mystery, there's a good chance that it was home grown. The environment of a big city like New York offers an ideal breeding ground for creepy crawlies of all sorts.
New Yorkers out there may want to think twice before lifting their foot to squash the next buggy invader. You might be squashing a brand new species!
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