Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Human Genome Research Institute

3_genwithin_reading_lifes_codeYour genome is 99.9% like the genomes of other human beings, although slight differences or gene variations within an individual’s genome make each person unique. Genomes are complicated: Some of your traits are mainly controlled by one gene, such as for instance the gene that determines if your hairline is straight or pointed in the center. Most traits are influenced by multiple genes: Characteristics such as height, for example, involve as many as 180 genes, and eye color is influenced by over a dozen. Most frequently, your traits – including your chance of developing some diseases – appear to result from interactions between your genes, your lifestyle, and the environment in which you live.

2 thoughts on “Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Human Genome Research Institute

  1. shinichi Post author

    Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code

    http://unlockinglifescode.org/

    The inspiration for “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” arose nearly two years ago, when the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) began looking ahead to 2013 – an epic anniversary for genomics, marking 60 years since Watson and Crick’s first 1953 report of the DNA double-helix and 10 years since the 2003 completion of the Human Genome Project.

    Wanting to celebrate these milestones with an event that would educate, inform, and engage the greater public, NHGRI partnered with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) to launch what may be the largest collaboration to date between the National Institutes of Health and a Smithsonian museum. “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” builds on the strengths of both institutions to recognize the accomplishments of the past, showcase the future, and highlight the increasing relevance of genomics in people’s lives.

    The last 10 years have taught us much about genomic contributions to health and disease, but there is more to discover, understand, and communicate. This NHGRI-Smithsonian partnership has the potential to contribute to that future in significant ways.

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    Do you have your mother’s straight hair? Or your father’s dimples? These are just two of the many traits, or physical characteristics, that make you who you are. But how do you inherit these traits from your parents? And how do you pass them on to your children? Every living thing on Earth has a biological blueprint written in unique code contained in a chemical (or molecule) called DNA. This astonishingly simple code uses just four “letters” – the nucleotides A, C, G, and T. DNA is present in the cells of all living things and guides their development and function. All the genetic information in the nucleus of one human cell is known as the genome – the “how-to” instruction manual for a human being. It’s hard to wrap your head around all the different dimensions of the human genome because it is incredibly tiny and amazingly huge at the same time. On the one hand, it’s so small that nearly 200 copies of the genome can fit on the head of a pin. On the other hand, if the DNA from a single human cell were stretched out end to end, it would make a six-foot-long, microscopically thin strand containing a whopping 6 billion letters (A, G, G, and T) and 20,000 genes! Each gene is a segment of DNA that tells the cell how to make specific proteins that it needs to function and keep the organism alive. Our cells contain thousands of different proteins, and each one plays a specific role. Keratin, for example, gives fingernails their structure. Hemoglobin in blood cells carries oxygen throughout the body.

    Your genome is 99.9% like the genomes of other human beings, although slight differences or gene variations within an individual’s genome make each person unique. Genomes are complicated: Some of your traits are mainly controlled by one gene, such as for instance the gene that determines if your hairline is straight or pointed in the center. Most traits are influenced by multiple genes: Characteristics such as height, for example, involve as many as 180 genes, and eye color is influenced by over a dozen. Most frequently, your traits – including your chance of developing some diseases – appear to result from interactions between your genes, your lifestyle, and the environment in which you live.

    Scientists continue to study the information written in our genomes, but it could take many years to completely understand how the genome functions. Nevertheless, we can already solve medical mysteries, better treat diseases, and even cure some cancers thanks to genomic information. Groundbreaking medical and technological advances are already within reach, including personalized healthcare custom-matched to the genome within you. Explore the exhibit and learn how these advances can affect you and your family.

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  2. shinichi Post author

    Have you ever wondered where your eye color comes from, or why a certain disease runs in your family? As DNA sequencing becomes more common, you may soon have the opportunity to learn how your genomic makeup contributes to your traits and to your health.

    Because the human species evolved so recently, the genomes of any two humans today are about 99.9 percent alike. The 0.1 percent genomic differences that we observe are called genetic variants. Most genetic variants do not affect your overall health. However, over the last 20 years, researchers have identified thousands of genetic variants that cause or contribute to common and rare diseases and also some that can protect you from disease.

    Scientists have identified over 4,000 diseases that are caused by a single variant in a specific gene. For example, sickle cell anemia is caused by a single change or mutation in the hemoglobin gene. DNA sequencing can also identify genetic variants that influence a person’s risk of developing a certain disease. However, it is hard to predict who will actually develop common diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and many cancers just from looking at our genes. When a doctor wants to estimate your risk of developing a disorder, they first ask lots of questions about your family health history and your lifestyle. This is because not only our genes, but also how we live our lives, contribute to disease risk.

    If your risk for a certain disease seems higher than average, the doctor may suggest genetic testing to discover the health information written in your genetic code, as well as lifestyle changes that can increase your chances for a healthy life. Why does lifestyle matter so much? Researchers have found that some environmental factors can add permanent footprints on the genome, changing genes’ activity and affecting health. For example, aging identical twins – who were initially born with identical genomes – often have large differences in their genome’s environmental footprints, which contribute to significant differences in their medical condition (for example, very often one twin is healthier or lives longer than the other).

    A new time is upon us for understanding the genome’s role in health and disease. Hardly a week goes by without a medical breakthrough helped by genomics. Scientists who study how genes and the environment interact are excited about using this knowledge to improve our healthcare. With a greater understanding of how genomes work, researchers are already developing ways to prevent and treat genetic illnesses, understand your microbiome, personalize healthcare, and stop deadly epidemics. As you explore the exhibit, you will learn how knowledge about a person’s genome might contribute to improving their health.

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