Genetics: Decoding Life Exhibit

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Dec 11, 2012 (4 years and 10 months ago)

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Genetics: Decoding Life Exhibit


Cloned mice, beetle
-
resistant potato plants, and the use of DNA as evidence in criminal
investigations are all possible because of genetics, a science which examines origin, development
and heredity.

In Chicago, the Museum
of Science and Industry has just opened what it calls the nation's
first permanent genetics exhibit.

The exhibit, "Genetics: Decoding Life" is 650 square meters of live animals, interactive
computer displays and thought
-
provoking questions about what make
s living beings develop, and
what scientists can do with what they've learned. In the "cloning" section of the exhibit, a video
explains various reasons why animals are cloned. It explains that "Dolly," the world's first cloned
sheep, was part of an effort

to reproduce animals that had been genetically altered to produce
human proteins in their milk.

"Other scientists are researching the possibility of using cloning to bring back endangered
species or to reproduce prized livestock"

The museum's exhibit dev
eloper, Patricia Ward, says in addition to cloning, the exhibit
focuses on development, mutations, genetic engineering and the human genome. "When we were
starting to develop the exhibit, we went out to the public and did focus group evaluation and
intervi
ewed people and asked what they were interested in, what they wanted to know and what
they thought was important," she says. "We used that information to help us delineate what the
concepts were going to be that we present in the exhibit. We found that the
y were interesting in
things like cloning, genetic engineering, finding about what the science was about behind those
topics."

Genes are tiny bits of chemical instructions located on the chromosomes of living beings.
They control a variety of things rangin
g from height to eye color to susceptibility for illness.

Cloned sheep and stem
-
cell research are genetics
-
related topics that lots of people hear about,
but not many understand well. "Genetics is a really abstract subject; you can not see it. It is very
t
iny stuff. Even though it is a part of all of us, it essentially is important to all of us because it is
our lives; you can not see it so it is really hard to bring it to life," she says.

The Museum of Science uses mice, frogs, fruit flies and baby chicks
in its exhibit to illustrate
how genetics works. A chick hatchery is used to explain embryonic development, and gives
visitors a chance to see chicks break out of their shells.

A video and small frog pond help explain genetic engineering. The frogs in thi
s display have
eyes that glow.

"In addition to their normal frog genes, they also have a jellyfish gene, which carries the
instructions to make a green fluorescent protein GFP, for short. This genetic engineering is what
makes their eyes glow green."

Ms.
Ward says researchers use genetic engineering of this type to help them understand how
human eyes develop, and how certain genes turn on and off during development. Scientists can
use this to visibly watch during development of the tadpole through its vari
ous stages, when
certain genes are turning on to begin the development of the lens of the eye," she says.

The section on cloning introduces visitors to cloned mice, and explains how genetic
information
-

or DNA
-

is transferred from one mouse to another's
eggs to make a clone.

"Working with an extremely fine needle, he removes the nucleus from one of the egg cells
and throws it away. Success rates for cloning are extremely low. It takes about 100 attempts to
produce a healthy cloned mouse."

Advancements in

genetics research has led some people to predict that human cloning might
be possible in the near future, but is that a good idea?

Ms. Ward says the cloning section of the exhibit, along with the others, asks visitors for their
opinions on controversial
issues like cloning or genetic engineering. "Over here, people can
role
-
play being a genetic counselor and explore some of the different issues involved surrounding
genetic testing. It is one of those very complex areas in which there are no simple answers
," she
says. "People have all kinds of different reactions about whether they want to be tested for any
given genetic disease and what would they do with that information if they had it?"

Ms. Ward hopes the exhibit helps people better understand an area of

science that fascinates
many people, while frightening others. "Our role is to interpret the science for the public and
provide a strong foundation for visitors to go and explore individual topics that they might be
more interested in and come to some con
clusions for themselves," she says.

The Museum of Science and Industry also hopes to stimulate discussion of genetics by
hosting a three
-
part symposium with the nearby University of Chicago. Each session will feature
experts talking about the science behin
d new genetic breakthroughs.