“People are engaged in this topic,” said Dr. Carla Easter, deputy chief of NHGRI’s Education and Community Involvement Branch (ECIB). “Teaching genomics is not easy. It’s a word not common in our vocabulary. Now, with the genomic revolution, people are more familiar with it in health care discussions and the National Museum of Natural History is utilizing genomic technology to enhance their research.”
The exhibit commemorates the anniversaries of two scientific achievements: the 10th anniversary of completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the 60th anniversary of James D. Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s double helix structure in 1953, which laid the foundation for modern medical advances. NIH’s Human Genome Project sequenced the genome of a composite of individuals that will eventually lead to a greater understanding of mutations that cause disease. More immediately, it will help researchers personalize medicine and improve diagnostic testing.
Visitors take in some of the interactive attractions of the “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in downtown Washington, D.C.
Photos: Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution
“Two years ago, we had a meeting with Dr. [Wayne] Clough, the Smithsonian’s secretary, looking for ways to build stronger programmatic relations and outreach,” recounted Vence Bonham, chief of ECIB. “Out of that meeting came the idea for a collaborative exhibit on genomics. We brought together two teams, NHGRI and the Smithsonian’s natural history museum, to work for 22 months as one team. Together we developed content, artifacts and concepts—collaborating to develop this exhibit.”
The various displays explore genomics as it relates to us as individuals, as members of a family and as part of biodiversity in our universe. Learn how researchers sequence a genome and how that data can transform our lives. Explore genomic ancestry from personal stories on video to archaeological evidence. Discover how genomics affects evolutionary changes and our natural world.
Activities and information also invite visitors to ponder the ethical, legal and environmental implications of advances in genomic science. Guests can contribute to the discussion via an ongoing research project. In an area known as the Genome Zone, there’s a list of questions on the wall: “What’s unique about your genome? Anything you want to remain a mystery? What do you hope scientists will discover about human health and medicine using the genome?” Visitors can text their brief answers, which become part of an online word cloud, and track the responses at http://research.nhgri.nih.gov/SocialGenome.
“This is also a social genomics research project,” said Bonham. “It will provide an opportunity for the exhibit visitor to participate in social science research conducted by a group of social and behavioral investigators at NIH.”
Funding for the exhibit came entirely from private donors.
When walking through the exhibit, it’s inspiring to see children of all ages engaged in hands-on learning. “The [exhibit’s] technology is engaging and, more importantly, friendly so people aren’t intimidated to learn about something so impactful,” said Easter. “Having young kids [spending time] in the exhibit is a wonderful start and an opportunity to build on their baseline knowledge.”
Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code opened in June. It will remain at the National Museum of Natural History until September 2014, after which it will travel to major cities across North America for the next several years.
For more information, visit www.genome.gov/Smithsonian/.