Riverfront Museum Exhibit Unravels Future of Genomics Research

Apr 6, 2017

DNA-Double-Helix seen through an electron microscope.
Credit Karl-Ludwig Poggemann / Flickr/Creative Commons

Citizen scientists in Peoria have a chance to explore genetics through a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The display called, “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” opened at the Peoria Riverfront Museum Sat. It’s an interactive museum experience that aims to show how recent discoveries in genetics are opening the door to advancements in research and medicine.

Peoria Riverfront Museum VP of Programs Ann Schmitt reads a display in the latest interactive exhibit, "Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code."
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

“Science is accelerating very quickly, and the things that we can do now, are really, it almost seems miraculous,” Riverfront Museum’s Vice President of Programs, Ann Schmitt, said.

Genomes are the genetic material found in all living organisms.

Schmitt says, while its existence has been known for centuries, the relatively recent launch of the Human Genome Project in 1990 led to “sci-fi like” developments in how genomic research can be used.

And those advancements pose ethical questions about how far testing and research should go.

“For instance, is it ethical to change the genetic makeup of our offspring?,” Schmitt said. “That’s a slippery slope. One that you have to think really carefully about: whether or not we as a species want to go down that slope.”

Credit William Crochot / Wikimedia Commons

A relatively new approach in genomic research is genome editing, essentially “copying and pasting” segments of DNA. This method can be used to fix mutations that cause disease.

The concept of genome editing raises questions about the ethics of changing a human’s characteristics, particularly fetuses.  

The exhibit, “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” explores the human genome and how it can determine an individual’s traits or predisposition to diseases, like cancer. It also includes events, like a symposium led by some of the leading experts in genomics research on Apr. 19. More information about that event and others related to the exhibit is available here.