Students connect with genetics experts during DNA Day

2016-05-31

Marc Fiume

Marc Fiume, CEO and co-founder of DNAStack, presents at the Ontario Science Centre during a DNA Day event.

“This is my best friend Dan,” stated Marc Fiume, CEO and co-founder of DNAStack, as he pointed to his presentation featuring a photo of his friend. “He has cystic fibrosis, which is a recessive disorder… Dan has undergone two lung transplants in his life. In order to treat patients like Dan, it’s really important for us to understand the human genome.”

Fiume was one of six experts who spoke during Canada’s annual DNA Day, celebrated on April 21. This year, the event consisted of two live-streamed lectures and Q&A sessions focusing on the topics, personalized medicine and DNA Barcoding. Taking place at the Ontario Science Centre and the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph, DNA Day featured experts from Ontario Genomics, DNAStack, the Ontario Science Centre, SickKids, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the University of Guelph.

“[The students] loved the event,” said Kendra Spira, Grade 11-12 biology teacher at Erin District High School, whose students attended the University of Guelph event. “They thought the opportunity to experience a university-style lecture given by world-recognized experts was a great experience.”

For Shania Brown, a Grade 12 student from Erin District High School, the day was a valuable experience. “I really enjoyed listening to the different speakers and I enjoyed being able to truly experience how passionate they are about their work. I also enjoyed the question period, where my own peers and students from other schools were able to get answers to their questions from experts.”

Throughout the live-streamed events, the Grade 8-12 students took the opportunity to ask the experts complex questions. At the Ontario Science Centre, questions focused on the topic of personalized medicine and included, “With personalized genomics, are we one step closer to designer babies?” and “If we were to unravel the entire human genome and manipulate it, what ramifications would we see?”

Student asks a question

A student from Erin District High School asks a question during a DNA Day event at the University of Guelph.

Robert Hanner

Dr. Robert Hanner, Associate Director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network, answers student questions during DNA Day.

In Guelph, the questions focused on DNA barcoding. “Are there possible ways for suppliers to falsify information on the barcodes?” one student asked. Another added: “How many species do we share our planet with?”

“[The students] learned quite a bit about how DNA is handled and the potential for DNA barcoding to be used in the world,” said Spira. “[They] were really excited that the professors and volunteers were willing to take the time to answer their questions.”

“The experience was an invaluable way to get a peek into the world of DNA fingerprinting and biotechnology,” said Grade 12 student, Drew Dolson.

In addition to the live-streamed events, educators and students were encouraged to submit questions on all genetics topics. The DNA Day panel of experts, which included researchers from all across Canada, answered questions through recorded video answers.

Developed by Let’s Talk Science and Genome Alberta, DNA Day was created to help young Canadians explore the world of genetics by connecting them with the science community. It raises awareness about DNA, while commemorating James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double helix in April 1953, and the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003. DNA Day helps students understand the impact genetics has on our world.

Interested in the answers to the above DNA questions? To view the DNA Day videos, visit http://letstalkdna.ca.

DNA Day is made possible thanks to the support from Genome Canada, Genome Atlantic, Genome BC, Genome Prairie, Ontario Genomics, the University of Guelph, the Government of Canada and the Ontario Science Centre.

Let’s Talk Science also thanks CurioCity donors for their financial support.