A case of DNA diagnostics in a high school in Manhattan uncovered a species of cockroach not previously familiar to scientists.

Brenda Tan, 17, and her Trinity School classmate 18 year old Matt Cost conducted a student experiment on classifying species by a single gene instead of the complete set of genes more commonly used.  Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History were collaborators on the work.

The pair set about their upper West Side neighborhood in New York City and over four months, collected specimens of 95 species in their every day existence.  There wasn’t much new information in the results.  For example, all their classmates who gave a hair sample learned they were part of the human race, chuckled Tan.

And yet when the students collected what looked like a typical cockroach lying dead on the floor of an apartment, they learned from the Natural History Museum that genetically speaking, the cockroach had a four percent difference from all 65,000 species in the database.

The ramifications of this are enormous and question what the scientific community knew about cockroaches.  More research will now be done to see if this is indeed an entirely new species.

The other surprises in the research, as reported in The New York Times, were that many household items were not accurately labeled.  A sample of venison dog treats turned out to be beef, some sturgeon caviar was nothing more than paddlefish from Mississippi, and some pricey sheep’s milk cheese was actually made from cow’s milk.

This form of “DNA Barcoding” is only six years old, but it is becoming a valuable resource in the classification of items.  All the DNA databases are available to the public so lab workers need only submit a sample for the DNA diagnostics to reveal proof of identity.