Unlocking life’s code

UNC clinical geneticist Jim Evans helped to open the new Smithsonian exhibition, Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code. Portions of the exhibit include – understanding DNA; the role of genomics in health and medicine; biodiversity; medical testing and direct-to-consumer genomics; and genetic ancestry.

The exhibition, open to the general public, is a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Dr. Evans shares why this exhibit is important for everyone to see.

What was your role in the Genomics exhibit?

I was a technical advisor, concentrating on genomics and especially the medical aspects of it, including its promise and the challenges it raises as such things are increasingly incorporated into clinical medicine.

Why is an exhibit like this important?

We live in an age where science touches our lives constantly and in every sphere. Yet, the general public and our leaders all too often have a poor understanding of science. Given its tremendously important role in our lives it is critical that the public understand scientific concepts that shape us and influence us. Much formal science education intimidates students. Thus, there is a huge need for science to be presented to people in ways that make it approachable, understandable and for it to be done in a way that allows people to see the beauty in science. In particular, genomics is really about who we are at a fundamental level – what could be more important than understanding such things, even apart from the growing role that genomics is having in medicine?

Who is this exhibit for? Who would enjoy this type of an exhibit?

Anyone who happens to be human and has the least interest in what makes us tick.

What do you want people to walk away from knowing/appreciating about genomics?

That we now understand how life works at its most basic level – the level of the gene and how much insight that gives us into everything from medicine to where we came from. I’d like people to walk away from the exhibit not just with knowledge but with an appreciation simply for how beautiful genetics is.

Dr. Evans is Bryson Professor of Genetics and Medicine, director of the UNC Clinical Cancer Genetics Program of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and editor-in-chief of the journal Genetics in Medicine.

Published June 14, 2013.