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Genome Exhibit Opens at Smithsonian

Image via nmid/

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project—a 13-year endeavor that I had the privilege of leading—the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC is launching an absolutely fantastic exhibit called “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code.”

The exhibit goes way beyond basic biology—what DNA looks like, what it’s made of, and how it works—and reveals how your genome affects your life, and your past, current, and future health.

You’ll be able to see how scientists make connections between genes and traits and diseases. And you’ll see how we can personalize your medicines and drug therapies according to your genes.

There are plenty of interactive activities to capture your interest and imagination. For example, you could do a little detective work using DNA samples. Or you might choose a physical trait and explore the genes that contribute to it—where, for example, is one of the major genes for eye color? If you’re a history buff, you might want to trace the ancestry of one of nine characters, using their DNA to peer into their recent and deep history and trace their migration route out of Africa.

The exhibit also reveals the complex ethical, social, environmental, and legal issues raised by our understanding of the genome and our newfound ability to decode it—and even change it.  Just today, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that genes isolated from the human body are not patentable. The decision represents a victory for all those eagerly awaiting more individualized, gene-based approaches to medical care.

The exhibit will travel the country in future years, but if you get a chance to visit it here in Washington, don’t pass it up.  Just look for the Hope diamond on the second floor, and take a left.  By visiting this exhibit, you’ll see yourself differently. I guarantee it. Perhaps you’ll see how similar your genetic code is to another species and gain a fuller appreciation of the Tree of Life. Perhaps you’ll recognize that, no matter how different two people look—all humans share more than 99% of their DNA.  That’s the best evidence you could imagine to show that humankind is really just one big family.

It is well worth the visit. ENJOY!

The exhibit opens to the public tomorrow, June 14.

Image via nmid/

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In that role he oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research. Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH from 1993-2008.

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