Genome research gets a star turn
An area of medical research that holds some of the greatest promise for the future is getting its own spot in history at the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is developing its first major exhibit on the human genome with a $3 million pledge from a biotechnology company.
The philanthropic foundation of Life Technologies Corp. is the lead sponsor for a 2,500-square-foot exhibition slated to open on the National Mall in Washington in June 2013.
The museum will collaborate with the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health to develop a high- tech presentation of the history and future of genome sciences. The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health also contributed $500,000.
The effort marks the 10th anniversary of researchers producing the first complete human genome sequence as a blueprint of the human body. The Human Genome Project was launched as an international effort in 1990 to better understand the genetic impact on health and disease.
The museum also plans to delve into ethical questions that arise with advancements in genetic science. Curators will ask visitors their thoughts on whether to find out about prenatal health issues or risks their children may face. In some cases, treatment can begin for a genetic defect before symptoms ever develop to significantly improve the lives of those children.
Genetic research also is part of the museum’s future. It recently built the world’s largest natural history biorepository with 24 liquid nitrogen tanks and 45 freezers to store animal DNA and tissue samples, and it is planning a genomics research lab on the National Mall, said Dr. Jonathan Coddington, the museum’s associate director for research and collections.
“So we’re thinking about becoming a museum of genomes,” he said. “We’ll still be the old-fashioned museum we’ve always been, but we’ll add to that genomics.”