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What Are You Doing for National DNA Day?

When many people think of April, they think of spring. But others think of DNA

April 2009

D N A Day April 24, 2009As the seventh annual National DNA Day approaches, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), along with students, teachers, researchers and health professionals across the country, are gearing up to celebrate the key molecule of life.

National DNA Day is usually observed on April 25, but this year NHGRI will hold most of its activities on Friday, April 24 to accommodate classroom schedules. Building upon the popularity of the online chatroom and ambassador programs, NHGRI and its DNA Day partners this year have expanded their outreach efforts even further by creating National DNA Day social networking pages on Facebook and Twitter.

Established by Congress seven years ago, National DNA Day commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA's double helix by Watson and Crick in 1953. Of course, National DNA Day is much more than a time to honor historical achievements. It's a day filled with opportunities for students, teachers and the public to learn how the exciting field of genome research will soon touch all of our lives.

"DNA Day is a unique opportunity for genetic and genome professionals to discuss their own careers and daily lives with students and the public," said Carla Easter, Ph.D., a science education specialist in NHGRI's Education and Community Involvement Branch, which guides NHGRI's National DNA Day outreach and partnership efforts. "It's important that our researchers are accessible so students can be inspired and perhaps consider pursuing a career in genomic science or medicine. Even if students don't choose to become researchers or health professionals, we want them to be aware of what this valuable science might mean for their own health."

Each year, NHGRI supports a diverse number of activities to foster interactions between genome researchers and the public. For instance, NHGRI researchers, called DNA Day Ambassadors, are visiting dozens of high schools throughout the nation during April to give presentations and field questions from students. This year, NHGRI is particularly focusing on the southwest region of the United States, sending DNA Day ambassadors to high schools in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

NHGRI's DNA Day Ambassadors meet over pizza and soft drinks to prepare for last year's presentations to students.

"It's a fun day because we get to talk with students about what we do each day in the lab, as well as discuss the ethical, legal and social implications of genome research," said Milton English, Ph.D., an NHGRI researcher who serves as a DNA Day Ambassador. "Students get excited when they are able to get answers to their questions directly from a scientist standing in their classroom, rather than having to rely on a textbook or watching a video."

No matter where they live, students and teachers can participate in National DNA Day through a live, moderated online chat with NHGRI researchers, which will be open for questions Friday, April 24, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern. NHGRI experts will be available to answer questions on a wide range of topics, including basic science, clinical research, genomics careers and the ethical, legal and social implications of genome research. For those unable to participate in the live event, a transcript of the chat will be available on the DNA Day Web site at National DNA Day Online Chatroom.

NHGRI staff and researchers answered a record number of questions from students during the live, moderated online chat during last year's DNA Day.

To get its message out to the rapidly expanding world of social networking, NHGRI this year created a Facebook page for National DNA Day. Among the special interactive features on the National DNA Day Facebook page is a fun photo contest of DNA models. Entries are due by April 24 and the winner will be announced online during the DNA Day chat.

Already, NHGRI has received some very creative submissions, including one DNA model made with marshmallow bunnies and another made with licorice rope and gum drops. The page also keeps fans attuned to upcoming events, posts articles from the media about genetic discoveries and points to educational resources. Users must register to use the Facebook social networking site, which is free.

National DNA Day is also sending out updates through Twitter, another free service for users. The National DNA Day Twitter feed can be subscribed to by going to www.twitter.com/dnaday.

In addition to these activities and resources, NHGRI's Web site offers a number of free, educational tools on genetics and genomics, including webcasts, podcasts and an online multimedia education kit called Understanding The Human Genome Project. They are available at www.genome.gov/DNAday.

NHGRI's partners for National DNA Day 2009 include: The American Society of Human Genetics [ashg.org], The Genetic Alliance [geneticalliance.org], The American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) [acmg.net], The International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG) [isong.org], The National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) [nsgc.org], and the American Pharmacist Association [pharmacist.com].

Last updated: March 14, 2014