Smithsonian Genome Exhibition Unlocks 21st-Century Science of Life

June 13, 2013
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Genome: Unlocking Life's Code

Press kit for the exhibition

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in partnership with the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, opens “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” June 14—a multimedia exhibition that explores how the genomic revolution is influencing people’s lives and the extraordinary impact it is having on science, medicine and nature.

The exhibition looks at the complexities of the genome—the complete set of genetic or hereditary material of a living organism—and chronicles the remarkable breakthroughs that have taken place since the completion of the Human Genome Project 10 years ago. With cutting-edge interactives, 3-D models, custom animation and engaging videos of real-life stories, the exhibition examines both the benefits and the challenges that genomics presents to modern society.

“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” will be on view at the National Museum of Natural History through Sept. 1, 2014, when it will begin a tour of venues throughout North America.

“Genomic research is a vital tool for exploring the mysteries of the natural world, and it is an important part of Smithsonian science,” said Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History. “‘Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code’ will help our visitors understand how genomics is transforming what we know about ourselves and how we make important life decisions.”

“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” celebrates the anniversaries of two landmark scientific discoveries: the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s first completely sequenced human genome and the 60th anniversary of James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s double helix structure.

“This exhibition reflects a remarkably productive collaboration between two scientific icons of the U.S. government—the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institutes of Health,” said Dr. Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up NIH in Bethesda. “Our ability to share the science of genomics with the more than 7 million annual visitors to the National Museum of Natural History is profoundly exciting for the broader genomics research community.”

When visitors enter the 4,400-square-foot exhibition they will be immersed in an interactive environment that communicates the pervasiveness of genomic science and provides new ways of looking at themselves—as individuals, as members of a family and a species, and as part of the diversity of all life.

“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” is organized around four themed areas, offering visitors personalized and interactive experiences that examine what a genome is (“The Genome Within Us”), how it is related to medicine and health (“Your Genome, Your Health”), how it connects them to all of life (“Connections: Natural World and Genomic Journey”) and how it is a part of their own personal story (“Genome Zone”):

  • The Genome Within UsAt the center of the exhibition, museumgoers will explore how the genome is a part of their own bodies. They will discover what a genome is, where it is located in the human body (in the cell nucleus), why it matters and how it influences life, all through an introductory animation. Visitors will see a three-dimensional model of a human genome and watch historic interviews with Human Genome Project researchers in a video produced by History Channel. They can also participate in a media interactive that explores the ethical, legal and social implications of advancing DNA sequencing technologies and submit their responses on an interactive station and find out how their views compare with those of other visitors. An electronic news-ticker display will provide an ongoing stream of recent developments in genomics.
  • Your Genome, Your HealthVisitors will explore the many ways in which genome sequencing benefits patients through improved health care. They can learn about genes, genomic solutions to mysterious medical diseases, and through a futuristic DNA interactive, search for the right medicine for a given disease. An interactive puzzle presents how genetic, environmental and random factors influence an individual’s risk for a particular disease.
  • Connections: Natural World and Genomic Journey—Visitors will learn about the ways that genomes reflect the connection of all life on the planet, human ancestry and evolutionand even human society. They can explore how the Smithsonian is using new genomic technologies to preserve genetic diversity and study changes in the environment through the Global Genome Initiative, the Laboratories of Analytical Biology and its growing world-class biorepository of tissues as well as plant and animal DNA.
  • The Genome Zone—Visitors are presented with a lively room, full of conversations, educational activities and hands-on learning experiences that all personalize a genome. They can discover what unique traits they have at the “Trait Tree,” explore how much information their genomes can store despite their molecular scale at the “Genome in Time” and participate in a diversity of activities that all relate visitors to their own genomes in personal and tangible ways.

“Today, the Smithsonian is a leader in utilizing genomic research to understand the diversity of life on earth,” said Jonathan Coddington, associate director for science at the National Museum of Natural History. “This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to showcase the cutting-edge biotechnological research going on behind-the-scenes at the museum, and features some of our scientists’ work on hot topics like bird strikes, butterflies, wine grapes, bio-coding, Tasmanian devils and the Global Genome Initiative. Thanks to genomics, we now have the tools to sequence every organism on the planet, allowing us to preserve genetic diversity, study changes in our environment and learn more about how these changes affect all life on Earth.”

The exhibition includes free educational resources and programs on genetics and genomics and an educational-based website: program of exhibition-related events in Washington, D.C., is being developed by The Smithsonian Associates and the National Human Genome Research Institute and will be announced on the website.  

An advisory committee, which included eight genomic scientists, provided input during the development of the exhibition. The exhibition was produced in association with Science North and designed and fabricated by Design & Production Inc. and Evidence Design.  

The exhibition was supported by its lead sponsor, Life Technologies Foundation.

Other major sponsors include Johnson & Johnson, and The Brin Wojcicki Foundation.

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Randall Kremer


Ryan Lavery


National Museum of Natural History
Press Office

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