Here at the Sarnoff Center, we are big fans of genetics. What better way to honor life’s building blocks than to celebrate National DNA Day on April 25?
On that day in 1953, the scientific journal Nature highlighted the discovery of DNA’s structure by James Watson and Francis Crick (and, ahem, Rosalind Franklin). Fifty years later, in April 2003, scientists completed the Human Genome Project.
National DNA Day offers students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about the latest advances in genetics and explore how those advances impact humanity. While the COVID-19 pandemic keeps us from celebrating together, here are some activities we can do from home:
Watch Ken Burns’ documentary The Gene: An Intimate History: While I don’t recommend binging PBS’ four-hour, two-part program in one go, the film was an absolute treat. Based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book by the same name, the film brought me back to high school biology class, detailing advances from philosophers like Aristotle to modern genome-mapping scientists. The film introduces viewers to patients and doctors on the cusp of genetic discoveries that could change the lives of many. It’s 10 out of 10, highly recommended.
Document your family health history: Family health histories can provide clues about genetic factors that are passed down from parents to children, and they can map the likelihood of developing certain hereditary diseases. Even if you are hunkering down at home alone, you can reach out to family members via Zoom or FaceTime to ask some personal questions. (Trust us, your bubbe already wants you to call more often.) Recording your health history is something you can do today to prepare for the future. And when you provide the records to your health-care providers, they can better identify potential health risks.
Create DNA origami: If you are trying to reduce your screen time, the National Human Genome Research Institute offers a kit to create your very own origami DNA at home! As you may already know, DNA’s structure of right-handed double helix is unique. All you need to do is download and print the foldable paper pattern and follow the folding instructions. They have also included a video guide if you need help along the way.
Talk to your physician about carrier screening: If you’re planning for a family, then you may want to make a telehealth appointment with your healthcare provider to talk about carrier screening. Persons of certain ethnic groups, including people of Jewish ancestry, are at higher risk for having a child with a genetic disorder. If both partners are carriers – meaning they each have one working copy of a gene and one changed copy of the same gene – each of their biological children has a 25% chance of being affected with the linked disorder.
Join a Sarnoff Center webinar: While we are not able to offer the Chicago community in-person events right now, we are still providing online educational opportunities via Zoom. Our health education program manager is facilitating webinars on Jewish genetic disorders, hereditary cancers, and genetic counseling and testing. Follow our Facebook page to learn more about upcoming online programs.
To learn more about the Sarnoff Center’s affordable, accessible carrier screening program or to speak with a genetic counselor, visit Jewishgenetics.org/cjg/get-screened or contact us at GeneticScreening@juf.org.