“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” returns to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

2021-10-15

"Genome: Unlocking Life's Code" returns to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History October 21 after more than six years. 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 in 2003. With engaging interactives, 3D models, custom animation and videos of real-life stories, the exhibition examines the benefits and the challenges that genomics presents to modern society.

"We're excited to bring this exhibition back to where it all started years ago," said Kirk Johnson, Sant Director of the museum. "It will once again help our visitors understand how genomics is transforming what we know about ourselves and how we make important life decisions."

The museum partnered with the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health in 2013 to create the multimedia exhibition that explored how the genomic revolution was influencing people's lives and the extraordinary impact it was having on science, medicine and nature. "Genome: Unlocking Life's Code" ran for 14 months at the National Museum of Natural History before touring North America.

"Genomics is an ever-maturing field, and in the short time since this exhibition was created, there have been many impressive genomic advances," explains Dr. Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. "With the continuation of the partnership between the Smithsonian and the National Human Genome Research Institute, we will be able to continue to share how genomics has shaped human history and how it is likely to shape our future."

"Genome: Unlocking Life's Code" includes all four themed areas from the original exhibition, 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 how it is a part of their own personal story ("Connections: Genomic Journey"):

  • The Genome Within Us-When museumgoers enter the 3,000-square-foot exhibition, they will explore how the genome is a part of their own bodies. They will discover what a genome is, where it is 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. They can also participate in a touchscreen 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.
  • Your Genome, Your Health-Visitors will explore the many ways genome sequencing benefits patients through improved health care. They can learn about genes, genomic solutions to mysterious medical diseases and 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-Visitors will learn about the ways that genomes reflect the connection of all life on the planet, human ancestry, evolution and human society. They can explore how the Smithsonian is using 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.
  • Connections: Genomic Journey-Visitors will dive into their genomic ancestry and discover that they are more alike than they are different. They can follow the human species' genomic journey from Africa to the Middle East through an interactive map and hear personal stories from people who have discovered more about their ancestry through genomics.

"In the six years since we sent the exhibition on its North American tour, the Smithsonian has continued to be a leader in using genomics research," said Jonathan Coddington, director of the Global Genome Initiative, senior research entomologist and curator at the National Museum of Natural History. "This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to showcase the cutting-edge genomics research happening behind-the-scenes at the museum to understand the diversity of life on Earth."

To bring the messages of "Genome" to more audiences, the museum created a "DIY" version of the exhibition that is free to communities around the world. "Genome DIY" is a print-on-demand exhibition that consists of graphic panels and interactive media. It can be adapted to a variety of venues and is available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

An advisory committee, which included eight genomic scientists, provided input during the development of the original exhibition. "Genome: Unlocking Life's Code" will remain on view until summer 2022.

Press Release