Tag Archives: genetics

Wonderful Things: Human Genome books

From Keith Richards to Jordan, books about people’s lives fly off the shelves. But what if they looked like this….?

Dense bedtime reading in the Human Genome books

Created from the Human Genome Project, these replica books (a printed version can be seen at the Wellcome Collection) show the sequence of 3 billion bases of DNA contained within a human cell.

Who did this?

 Beginning in 1990, the Human Genome project, coordinated by the U.S Department of Energy and the national institutes of health, intended to identify human genes, develop understanding of genetic diseases and highlight key developmental processes of the human body.  Whilst initial analysis was released in 2001, the final sequence was completed in 2003.

 What exactly were they looking at?

They were looking at the biological data which makes us unique; the things which make us, us.

 Sounds simple. What about the Science?

Ok. To start with, a genome is all in the DNA in an organism, including its genes which carry information for making proteins.

DNA is composed of four letters carrying instructions for making an organism – A, C G AND T.  Three of these letters together create an Amino Acid. These combinations make up 20 different amino acids and come in a vast number of different orders to create proteins from keratin to haemoglobin.

 Got it.

The human genome is made up of 3 billion bases of DNA, split into 24 chromosomes. Each chromosomes contains a selection of genes – the human genome contains about 20,000 – 25,000 genes.

 Ah, so that’s all the letters?

Exactly. This information can be used to develop new ways to diagnose, treat and someday prevent diseases. Scientists also studied the genetic makeup of non-human organisms including e.coli, the fruit fly and a laboratory mouse.

 Sounds useful, if not a bit sci-fi.

 Yes and, as with much boundary-pushing scientific research, this can lead to opposition and criticism. This was the first large scientific undertaking to address potential ethical, legal and social issues around data.  You might want to think about:

  1. Who should have access to this information?
  2. How much should people intervene with genetics material?
  3. How could this information be used?
  4. Could it be used for financial benefits?

 After all that, fancy some beach reading? 

 The Human Genome book is in the Who Am I? Gallery:  first floor, Wellcome Wing.

-Christopher Whitby

The £646 genome

What can you buy for $1000, or £646? A laptop…A moped… A holiday to Iceland… How about your genome?

Sequence your entire genome, quickly and cheaply.

fancy sequencing your genome, quickly and cheaply?

Now for that price you can sequence and own the complete genetic instructions that make you, you.  What can you do with it? You can find out if you have genes that make you susceptible to certain illnesses, like lung cancer, diabetes or arthritis.

The machine, which can sequence your genome in under a day, is smaller than a desktop printer and could be used in hospitals across the world to test for genetic mutations, and help doctors develop better therapies for, or even prevent, particular diseases. It has made personal genome sequencing a reality- quick and affordable.

The same machine was used during last year’s European E.coli outbreak to identify the strain’s drug-resistant genes and help discover where it originated.

Genome sequencing, on a desktop

Personal genome sequencing, on a desktop.

Would you like to know if you were prone to developing certain diseases? How would it affect your life? And who should have access to your genetic information?

Explore the topic of genetic testing with our discussion activity Do you want to know a Secret? , where students discuss the ethics and science of genetic tests, and consider the impact that a genetic test could have on their lives.

Wonderful Things: transgenic mice

Down at the far end of Making the Modern World sit two still white mice. Don’t panic! These mice aren’t vermin; they are in fact two freeze dried transgenic mice.

Two freeze dried genetically engineered mice

Two freeze dried genetically engineered mice, 1988. Image SSPL

The pair are direct descendants of the first transgenic mammals to be granted a US patent; among the first to be produced at Harvard Medical School in 1988. Their relatives had their genome altered through genetic engineering: by inserting an extra piece of DNA taken from a virus the mice are more prone to developing cancers.

This particular strain of mouse, known as Oncomouse is used in biomedical research for the development and discovery of treatment and cures for the disease. Nowadays, genetic engineering in mammals is becoming more vital in the development of immunisation in livestock.

Does this type of genetic engineering and testing sit happily with everyone? It appears not. Some see it as meddling with biological states and processes that have evolved over time. Others see it as advancement in the role that humans have occupied for thousands of years, after all haven’t we been selectively breeding the most desirable genetic characteristics (eg in cows, or dogs) for ages?

However, for geneticists to have identified the piece of DNA that make us more susceptible to certain types of cancers is a big deal, shouldn’t we be using this research to delve into our own DNA? By looking at our own genetic make-up, we could find out whether we were born with a cancer gene.

Should that information be available to everyone?

How would it affect society?

And should scientists be able to patent forms of life?

Explore the issues around genetic testing with your students using our genetics resource “Do you want to know a secret?” Give it a go to help your students discuss whether they would want to take a genetic test.

This pair of transgenic mice is in Making the Modern World, on the ground floor.

- Denise Cook

DNA Database – what’s the debate?

Have you ever wondered how DNA evidence is used to solve crimes? What is the National DNA Database? And why should it matter to us anyway?

Explore these questions and more in our new show ‘The Great DNA Debate’, all about genetic information, how it can be used, and who should have access to it. 


Socks and chromosomes in the Great DNA Debate show

Socks and chromosomes go together in the Great DNA Debate show

This interactive show is designed to support your teaching of KS3 and KS4  Biology and How Science Works, including applications and implications of science. Your students are also encouraged to participate in the discussion and have their say, so it’s a great PTLS activity too (check out the video here for a taste of the show!)

Planning to take your students to the Who am I? exhibition to explore genetics, brain science, and how they make each of us unique? This show will really enhance your visit.

The Great DNA Debate is free but requires prebooking, upcoming performances are on Tuesday 8th November, at 11am and 1pm. The show is 45 minutes long.

Call our Learning Support Team on 0207 942 4777 to find out more and book your class in!

New Punk Junk!

Short films are a great way of providing your students with some knowledge to bring into a discussion, or helping them formulate an opinion on an issue.

We do love films… And we love the Punk Science boys- our home-grown rambunctious science comedians. So we have put the two together.

We now have two new Punk Science films that will make all your dreams come true! Well, they will if you dream about having a fun video on ‘going green’ to show your students before a climate-science themed discussion, or a short flick that clarifies the difference between genetic modification and selective breeding.

If you dream about exotic holidays and eating cherries ’til your stomach aches then I’m not sure if Punk Science can help… but they will make you smile. Enjoy!

Eco Dan: Punk Science shows us how it's done

Eco Dan: Punk Science shows us how it's done

KS3 genetics and brain science

Hot off the press! We have just launched a brand-new series ‘Genetics and Brain Science’ on the Science Museum’s Educators website, where you can find a range of free KS3 and KS4 classroom activities. The resources support you in teaching contemporary science and How Science Works, and relate to our very popular Who am I? gallery.

To start off, we would like to present two activities that allow your students to explore the science of genetics:

Identical twins exploring the Who am I? gallery

1. In ‘Do you want to know a secret?’ your students work in research groups and discuss the issues surrounding genetic testing. Depending on the choices the groups make at the end of the session, they may find out the secret that their box holds…

2. By adopting a Thing in our fun game Thingdom, your students will learn about genetic inheritance and selective breeding. Can they breed new Things that have all the characteristics they want? Use the teaching film and student sheet to bring the Things alive in your classroom!

Watch this space…we will add more ‘Genetics and Brain Science’ resources shortly. And, as always, if you try these out, we’d love to hear about it! Talk.science@sciencemuseum.org.uk

Anna P

Swab test to predict future illness?

Could a single drop of your saliva tell you if you are prone to genetically inherited diseases?

Model of DNA

Model of DNA (SSPL)

Well this could soon be a reality according to scientists at Edinburgh University. They are developing a quick and cheap swab test to analyse your DNA. the Results could tell you if you were healthly, likely to develop a disease or diagonse conditions like cystic fibrosis. You can read more about this research here

Would you take the test? Would you like to know what your future health might be?

This story is a great starter for a dicussion around DNA, gentetics and gentic inheritance. The human barometer technique would be the perfect way to measure your student’s opinion and see how they would feel about having this test done.