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Inside DNA – A genomic revolution

3 Feb, 2009

Inside DNA

‘Inside DNA’ – the UK’s first national touring exhibition dedicated to developments in genomics research and their wider impact – was supported by a £1.5 million Wellcome Trust Capital Award. It will tour for five years, aiming to reach around one million people across the country.

The sequencing of the human genome has led to rapid advances in our understanding of its organisation and function. With a steady stream of stories in the media discussing genes and health, many people are eager to find out more about how genes affect our susceptibility to certain diseases – and to understand and have a say in the wider ethical, legal and social impact of advances in genomics research.

For example, just because someone can find out about their health risks, does it mean they should, especially if there is nothing they can do to change or reduce that risk? Could genetic testing lead to potential discrimination? And or who will benefit most from genetic medicines and national DNA databases? The ‘Inside DNA’ exhibition seeks to offer information in an easily digestible form to encourage people to think about and debate these and other urgent questions.

Spearheaded by Ecsite-UK, the UK Network of Science Centres and Museums, ‘Inside DNA’ was developed by the At-Bristol science centre. It opened in Bristol in November 2007 and moved to Newcastle’s Centre for Life in September 2008. After a several-month stint there, it will move to Glasgow and then Liverpool in 2009.


Using interactive exhibits and multimedia, the exhibition aims to provide an experience of genomics to match the excitement of the research that generated it.

The ‘Genome Explorer’ exhibit, for example, is a large table with chromosomes floating around on a plasma screen. Visitors can bring up information about the genes and other features on that chromosome, or a filmed interview with a family discussing an inherited condition, or a scientist talking about his or her work.

Another exhibit looks at the role of DNA in forensic science. A crime scene and a courtroom are depicted with striking 1940s Hollywood film-noir graphics in a virtual environment navigable by a movable screen.

‘How Much DNA?’ is an exhibit enabling visitors to pull out a tape to compare how much DNA there is in the cells of different organisms. And ‘Surnames’ – an exhibit that has proved particularly addictive – allows people to see the differences in distribution of their surname in the UK over time.

The scientific content for ‘Inside DNA’ was developed in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the exhibition has been designed so that its content can be updated via a main server, to allow for the rapid rate of scientific discovery in genomics.

The exhibition is aimed at young people from the age of 13 or 14 upwards and adults, and its frequently updated content is closely linked to the 14-19 curricula. The website provides classroom activities and downloadable resources to help teachers update themselves and their students on the latest DNA discoveries, and to debate the questions these raise.

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