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Teaching Guide

Life in the Lab

A Video for National DNA Day
April 30, 2004


The focus of this video is to give students a glimpse into the lives of three young scientists launching their careers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). It includes an introduction by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NHGRI.


To increase student awareness of careers in genomic science, as well as to dispel stereotypes about who has what it takes to become a scientist. The different pathways to a scientific career, as well as some common qualities of scientists, are presented. It also introduces the role of genomic research in curing diseases. It is designed to encourage all students to consider a career in the field of genomics.

Anticipatory Set:

Ask the students to quickly sketch or describe on paper their impression of a scientist. Ask them to also write a description of what type of research they think a scientist working on DNA research might do.

Ask for volunteers to share their answers. Most will probably describe scientists as white males wearing labs coats, with wild hair and glasses. They may not have any idea what DNA research would involve, but probably will list looking through a microscope, working with chemicals, and maybe using a computer. At this time do not correct any misconceptions they may have.

Tell the students that they will be viewing a video about genome researchers and science careers.

Suggested Discussion Questions

After viewing the video, ask the students:
  • What do you now think a scientist is like? What changed your image of a scientist? A scientist is like any other person, seeing the interviews of the scientists changed my view.

  • How might one go about becoming a scientist? There is no one way to become a scientist.

  • What are some important skills or qualities for a scientist to have? Some qualities are: inquisitive mind, ability to pose questions and ways to test their questions, self motivated, computer skills, interest in solving problems.

  • What DNA research topics can you think of? Medicine (cancer research, gene therapy), Forensics (finding missing children, solving crimes), Family Law (paternity test), History (tracking human population migrations, archaeology), Agriculture/Economics (breeding better crops and cattle), Environmental (engineering new bacteria that process pollutants)

  • How can you find out more about becoming a biomedical scientist? Visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Web site at www.nih.gov and go to the site for the institute that is researching the area of most interest to you.


Provide students with the Web sites for careers and training.
NIH-wide Resources:

Glossary of Terms from the Video

Bioinformatics - The application of computer technology to the management of biological information. Specifically, it is the science of developing computer databases and algorithms to facilitate and expedite biological research, particularly in genomics.

Chromosome - The self-replicating genetic structure of cells containing the cellular DNA that bears in its nucleotide sequence the linear array of genes.

Gene expression - The process by which proteins are made from the instructions encoded in DNA.

Genetic markers - A segments of DNA with an identifiable physical location on a chromosome and whose inheritance can be followed. Markers are often used as indirect ways of tracking the inheritance pattern of a gene that has not yet been identified, but whose approximate location is known.

Genetic markers - A gene or other identifiable portion of DNA whose inheritance can be followed.

Genome - The entire DNA contained in an organism or a cell, which includes both the chromosomes within the nucleus and the DNA in mitochondria.

Genotype - The genetic constitution of an organism, as distinguished from its physical appearance (its phenotype).

Human genome sequence - The exact order of the approximately 3 billion DNA base pairs in the human genetic blueprint.

Leukemia - An acute or chronic disease in humans and other warm-blooded animals characterized by an abnormal increase in the number of white blood cells in the tissues and often in the blood.

Melanoma - Cancer of the cells in the skin that produce melanin, a brown pigment. Melanoma often begins in a mole.

Modifier gene - A gene that affects the phenotypic expression of another gene.

Mutant - An organism with a permanent structural alteration in DNA. In most cases, DNA changes either have no effect or cause harm, but occasionally a mutation can improve an organism's chance of surviving and passing the beneficial change on to its descendants.

Myelogenous leukemia - Leukemia characterized by proliferation of myeloid tissue (as of the bone marrow and spleen).

Phenotype - The physical characteristics of an organism or the presence of a disease that may or may not be genetic.

Wild type - The genotype or phenotype that is found in nature or in the standard laboratory stock for a given organism; the phenotype of a particular organism when first seen in nature.

Last updated: March 17, 2012