A New Model for NIH Outreach
In June, the “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” exhibition opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.). The exhibition celebrates the anniversaries of two historic landmarks: the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s completion and the 60th anniversary of James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s double-helical structure.
The exhibition is the brainchild of Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), and G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. It represents the most expansive collaboration to date between the NIH and the Smithsonian Institution. The high-tech exhibition uses interactive touch screens and high-definition graphics, three-dimensional models, custom animations, and videos of real-life stories to explain the basics of genomics and DNA sequencing technology and to examine both the benefits and the challenges that genomics presents.
One of the exhibition’s displays features the stories of people who have taken part in genomic sequencing studies. Select a medical story, and a video of that individual appears on a large screen. The people describe their participation in the research and how the results were able to impact their lives.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, visitors are invited to explore genetic and environmental disease risk with a “wheel of chance.” This interactive activity illustrates that genetic risk factors alone do not determine whether one gets a particular disease. It is important for people to grasp the concept that a combination of genetic, environmental, and random factors influences their chances of developing a particular disease.
The exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Natural History and NHGRI staff. NHGRI involvement in the partnership was directed by the NHGRI Division of Policy, Communications, and Education, and its Education and Community Involvement Branch (ECIB). The Branch leads NHGRI’s involvement in helping to build the public understanding of the role of genomics in human health and of the accompanying ethical, legal, and social issues. ECIB provides educational information on genetics and genomics, distributes information on new genomic technologies, and increases awareness of genomic advances.
NHGRI expects to be able to reach millions of people through the exhibition. The National Museum of Natural History hosts roughly seven million visitors each year, ranging from school-aged children to retirees, from all over the world. “If I published 100 papers a year, no way would seven million people read them,” Lawrence Brody, chief of NHGRI’s Genome Technology Branch, pointed out.
NHGRI wants to “enhance the public’s genomic health literacy [and] encourage public understanding of how genomic research is important to individuals, their families and communities,” said ECIB education-outreach specialist Christina Daulton.
In addition to disseminating information, the exhibition also gathers it. Visitors can voluntarily answer survey questions such as “Is there anything about your genome that you want to remain a mystery?” and “If you could find out one thing about your genome, what would it be?” This Social Genomics Project led by intramural researchers provides the public an opportunity to consider the questions and see how other people have responded. It is expected that thousands of people will participate in the Project.
The exhibition will remain at the National Museum of Natural History through September 2014, and will then tour North America through 2018.
This page was last updated on Thursday, April 28, 2022