The National Museum of Natural History, in tandem with the exhibition “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” has created the “Genome Zone,” an exciting interactive space for visitors that is easily accessible from the main exhibit. Here a rotating schedule of activities will offer you an opportunity to examine your own traits, do hands-on lab exercises, attend videos, talks, and discussions, or respond to opinion polls to become more personally involved in the world of genetics and genomics.
In the Genome Zone, you may identify your own characteristics – dimples, hairlines, attached earlobes, or tongue rolling – which may or may not be shared with other visitors. Then find the special combination of traits that describes you. Using the Trait Tree, you can see photos of other people who share your very same combination of traits.
Another section of the Genome Zone is wired for sound and light and hosts a schedule of special programs. For example, “The Genome Scientist Is In” features presentations by scientists who are fascinated by the mysteries of the genome; and in “Genome Geeks,” young scientists share their passion for science and why they chose it for their career. With its movable tables and benches, this flexible space can also become an activity center featuring iPads with web-based interactives, as well as a place to view videos about genomics, or a location for other volunteer-led activities.
Among the Genome Zone volunteers are a number of area teens who have trained to help with the exhibition. In one hands-on project, they may show you how to extract a visible sample of your own DNA to take home with you. At other times, you could make a bracelet using beads to represent the genetic sequence of a chimpanzee or a turtle. Or you might learn how scientists analyzed DNA from the Canada goose that caused the 2009 plane crash into the Hudson River.
And just in case the size of the human genome still boggles your mind, perhaps you’d like to read the code letters from a short segment of the human genome – then calculate how long it would take you to read all 3.2 billion pairs of letters. Just a hint: It takes 12 months for your entire genome to scroll across a computer screen at the rate of 100 base pairs per second!
Photos of students courtesy of Sasan Azami-Soheily, NHGRI