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Explore the Genome Within

Do you have your mother’s straight hair? Or your father’s dimples? These are just two of the many traits, or physical characteristics, that make you who you are. But how do you inherit these traits from your parents? And how do you pass them on to your children? Every living thing on Earth has a biological blueprint written in unique code contained in a chemical (or molecule) called DNA. This astonishingly simple code uses just four “letters” – the nucleotides ACG, and T.  DNA is present in the cells of all living things and guides their development and function. All the genetic information in the nucleus of one human cell is known as the genome – the “how-to” instruction manual for a human being.

... the DNA from a single human cell ... would make a six-foot-long thin strand containing a whopping 6 billion letters and 20,000 genes!

It’s hard to wrap your head around all the different dimensions of the human genome because it is incredibly tiny and amazingly huge at the same time. On the one hand, it’s so small that nearly 200 copies of the genome can fit on the head of a pin. 

On the other hand, if the DNA from a single human cell were stretched out end to end, it would make a six-foot-long, microscopically thin strand containing a whopping 6 billion letters (A, G, G, and T) and 20,000 genes! Each gene is a segment of DNA that tells the cell how to make specific proteins that it needs to function and keep the organism alive.Our cells contain thousands of different proteins, and each one plays a specific role. Keratin, for example, gives fingernails their structure. Hemoglobin in blood cells carries oxygen throughout the body.

Your genome is 99.9% like the genomes of other human beings, although slight differences or gene variations within an individual’s genome make each person unique. Genomes are complicated:  Some of your traits are mainly controlled by one gene, such as for instance the gene that determines if your hairline is straight or pointed in the center. Most traits are influenced by multiple genes: Characteristics such as height, for example, involve as many as 180 genes, and eye color is influenced by over a dozen. Most frequently, your traits – including your chance of developing some diseases – appear to result from interactions between your genes, your lifestyle, and the environment in which you live.

Characteristics such as height, for example, involve as many as 180 genes, and eye color is influenced by over a dozen. 

Most frequently, your traits – including your chance of developing some diseases – appear to result from interactions between your genes, your lifestyle, and the environment in which you live.


Scientists continue to study the information written in our genomes, but it could take many years to completely understand how the genome functions. Nevertheless, we can already solve medical mysteries, better treat diseases, and even cure some cancers thanks to genomic information. Groundbreaking medical and technological advances are already within reach, including personalized healthcare custom-matched to the genome within you. Explore the exhibit and learn how these advances can affect you and your family.