Exhibit Shows Scale of Human Genome Sequence

Dr. Green holds his hands up to wall of genome hallway exhibit as Dr. Collins marvels at the display.

NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green (l) and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who worked on the Human Genome Project together, admire the scope of information represented.

Photo: Ernesto Del Aguila

Constantly seeking new opportunities to promote genomic literacy and spark scientific curiosity, the National Human Genome Research Institute has teamed up with the National Center for Biotechnology Information to create an educational exhibit illustrating the remarkable scale of the human genome sequence.

A little over a year ago, NHGRI obtained and renovated new space in the 4B corridor of Bldg. 31. The renovation created a lengthy, continuous wall in the public hallway that screamed out for appropriate décor. NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green opted to avoid the traditional approach of hanging framed journal covers and symposium posters, aiming for something “different, novel, educational and funky.”

Green decided to use the opportunity to illustrate the amazing scale of the human genome’s sequence of some 3 billion letters (i.e., bases). The nearly 100-foot wall was just the right size to display 1/1000th (or about 3 million letters) of the human genome sequence. Working with Darryl Leja, Dr. Gerard Bouffard and colleagues at NCBI, the team implemented this vision, which includes an explanatory tutorial about cells, chromosomes, DNA and genes.

A rendering of the genome exhibit in the 4B corridor of bldg. 31, which features 24 wall panels of genome letters, only a fraction of each human genome's 3 billion bases.

Illustration shows scale of the human genome sequence’s some 3 billion letters.

Photo: Darryl Leja

The Bldg. 31 4B hallway could only accommodate 1/1000th of the human genome sequence—the complete human genome sequence would require about 15 miles of hallway. To put this in perspective, a similar representation of the entire human genome sequence would wrap around the fence line of the NIH campus more than five times.

The hallway exhibit is designed to be a teaching tool for all NIH staff as well as the public. Visitors to Bldg. 31 are encouraged to stop by the 4B corridor to check it out.