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Vol. LVIII, No. 11
June 2, 2006

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NHGRI Produces Video Podcast for Students

They seem to be everywhere, those white wires leading to the all-so-hip ear buds. On the other end dangles a slick portable hard-drive that Apple Computers calls the iPod. A new breed came out last year: the video iPod. As part of the 4th annual National DNA Day on Apr. 25, the National Human Genome Research Institute broke new ground by becoming the first NIH institute to produce an on-demand educational video that is available as a podcast feed for teachers and students to watch on their own video iPod.

The video podcast, titled "Genomics: Towards a Healthier You," features Barbara Biesecker, an associate investigator and head of the genetic services research unit in NHGRI's Social and Behavioral Research Branch. In the video lecture, with slides edited into the video stream and also available in a webcast format, Biesecker describes her work as a genetic counselor and discusses why it's important for all people to learn more about genetics and genomics.

National DNA Day, begun in April 2003, commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project and the anniversary of the discovery of DNA's double helix by Watson and Crick in 1953. The goal of DNA Day, planned and carried out by NHGRI's Education and Community Involvement Branch, is to provide educational resources to excite teachers and students about genomics research and careers.

According to Larry Thompson of NHGRI, “The video iPod [shown above, with Barbara Biesecker on screen] is just another tool to deliver information about” the electrifying field of genomics research.  
"The video iPod is just another tool to deliver information about this electrifying field of research," said Larry Thompson, chief of NHGRI's Communications and Public Liaison Branch, which created the videos. "We started last year with multi-media programming on the institute's web site for National DNA Day. We thought the novelty of the video podcast might engage students about genomics research, just because it's cool. We did worry a bit that some kids might get harassed for putting such a nerdy subject on their cool iPod instead of the latest Lost episode."

Podcasting is simply a way to distribute video in the form of a computer file over the Internet. Video files can come in many flavors, but podcasts are typically in the MP4 format and can be played on many different devices similar to the iPod such as personal digital assistants (PDA) like a PocketPC, and even a cell phone. The Center for Information Technology web site,, began making other MP4 files available for download in February 2006.

NHGRI's video podcast gives users several pathways by which to access the video, said David Smith, technical team lead for NHGRI's web site. The institute registered its podcasts with Apple's iTunes store, a companion web service specifically designed to work with iPods. The user can click a link on NHGRI's web site and go directly to the iTunes download page for that podcast; NHGRI videos are, of course, free.

The podcasts, however, are not limited to iPods. Any type of player that supports the MP4 format can be used, and subscribers will automatically receive future videos in their portable media player through their subscriptions to the NHGRI video feed. Other information such as the video title, running-time and a description of what the video contains is automatically provided through the feed.

"This is similar in concept to when consumers subscribe to a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) text feed allowing them to automatically receive updates from selected web sites without having to check for them," Smith said. "RSS feeds are something NHGRI also recently began offering for its newsroom and calendar items and we hope to expand our offerings in the future."

So far, more than 800 users have downloaded NHGRI's DNA Day video podcast from In addition, the webcast format of the presentation was accessed more than 1,300 times on DNA Day alone. Two other educational webcasts produced for last year's National DNA Day, one featuring NHGRI director Dr. Francis Collins and the other featuring Dr. Elaine Ostrander, chief of NHGRI's Cancer Genetics Branch, also are available.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on National DNA Day, NHGRI also hosted its second live online chat-room to answer questions from students and teachers around the United States, as well as from South America, Europe, India, South Africa and China. Dozens of basic, clinical and ethics research staff — from postdocs to Collins and scientific director Dr. Eric Green — answered more than 600 questions, nearly twice as many as were answered the year before. Dr. Belen Hurle, a postdoctoral fellow at NHGRI and native of Spain, even answered several questions in Spanish.

According to Green, "An impressive number of questions were answered during the day and it was rather remarkable how the answers tapped into the diverse expertise available at NHGRI. It was gratifying to see so many different NHGRI researchers and staff actively engaged in this educational effort."

A transcript of the chat, which can be sorted by expert, is available at

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