Joining the NIH SEPA community

pgEd is thrilled to embark on two new projects through grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program. pgEd has received an award for its ARC project: Building Awareness, Respect, and Confidence through Genetics. Under ARC, pgEd is developing new curriculum on genetics and identity, including modules on sex and gender, race and ancestry, intelligence and cognition, gene editing, and genetics and space. We’re also launching a traveling professional development workshop to partner with teachers in urban and rural communities to increase awareness and conversation about personal genetics in high schools and the broader community. We’ll be partnering with Brockton High School in Brockton MA as well as Elizabeth McMillan (pgEd summer institute alum) and Sanford Research’s Program for the Midwest Initiative in Science Exploration (PROMISE) to work with schools in South Dakota and the surrounding states. We’ll also be continuing our partnership with The Jackson Laboratory on their Teaching the Genome Generation (TtGG) professional development course for teachers that integrates molecular biology, ethics, and bioinformatics.

pgEd’s Director of Programs, Marnie Gelbart, enjoyed fantastic discussions (and learned a lot!) at SEPA’s annual SciEd conference in Rockville, Maryland on May 9-12. She reconnected with old friends, including Louisa Stark who runs the amazing Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, and met many new people doing wonderful work in science and health education. New friends in genetics include the team from the University of Michigan & Michigan State’s MI SEPA project who are partnering with schools and communities in Detroit and Flint, and the University of Washington’s Genes, the Environment, and Me team who are working with schools and communities in Yakima Valley and throughout Washington state. Marnie presented a poster on pgEd’s new project and participated in a break-out session with Melissa Goldstein from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy to discuss the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative and connect the various projects advancing awareness and genomic literacy.

The ARC and TtGG projects are supported by the Office Of The Director, National Institutes Of Health under Award Numbers R25OD021895 and R25OD020205. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

pgEd Congressional briefing in the news

pgEd’s fourth Congressional briefing, held on Nov. 17 with panelists Diana Bianchi, Jennifer Doudna and George Church, was a great success. With a standing-room only crowd of over 150 in the audience, there were lively discussions about both the science and the social and policy implications of emerging genetic technologies such as non-invasive prenatal testing, CRISPR, and gene drives. The briefing was followed by a visit to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Check out our summary of the day’s events, which has been cross-posted to “Genes to Genomes,” the blog of the Genetic Society of America. Also check out the news coverage of the briefing by Elizabeth Cooney at the Harvard Medical School Office of Communications and External Relations.

Thanks again to our speakers and everyone who attended the briefing!


(Credit for photos 1-3: John Boal, photo 4 courtesy of Diana Bianchi)

Map-Ed wins Unlocking Life’s Code’s May Resource of the Month!

Thank you so very much to our colleagues at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI/NIH) and Unlocking Life’s Code! We are delighted to have our online quiz platform, Map-Ed: Genetics is Getting Personal, selected as their third-ever Resource of the Month. Each Map-Ed quiz is 5 questions, and tackles scientific and ethical questions in genetics. We’re also happy to debut a new look to the quizzes – thanks to the generous on-going grant from Sigma-Aldrich.

Choose one – or have a try with all six – and work your way through the questions. Once you complete a quiz, you can pin yourself on a world map, and watch as knowledge spreads across the globe. Enjoy the interactive features of the map – always a crowd-pleaser – developed with generous support from Autodesk.

We are in wonderful company as we join the ranks of the first two awardees, HudsonAlpha’s iCell and Cell Size and Scale from the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center.

If you have the chance, we highly recommend seeing Unlocking Life’s Code as it travels around North America in the coming months. Whether you have seen it in person or not – do not miss their website. It is full of excellent resources for teachers, students, and anyone interested in engaging and accessible information about genetics.

Coverage of pgEd’s Congressional briefing

Duana-Screen-Shot-2015-03-24-at-1.24.33-PMThank you to Harvard Medicine and reporter Elizabeth Cooney for an excellent summary of the discussion about the intersection of law, genetics and public policy during pgEd’s Congressional briefing on March 19th.  Check out “Personal Genetics and the Law” in the latest edition of HMS News. We are especially grateful to our panel of experts, all the people who attended and asked excellent questions, and for the support of the offices of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.  Please read and share!


“On Beauty” & Rick Guidotti at ASHG

pgEd  presented a workshop for high school students at the American Society of Human Genetics, as well as have our poster accepted at the meeting. We attended many intriguing talks (some of which we will revisit in this space in the weeks to come) and got to catch up with old and new friends, many of whom as just as passionate about public engagement and education as we are!

We were especially excited to get to see “On Beauty“, a film by Joanne Rudnick (of “In the Family” fame) from Kartemquin Films, which follows photographer and activist Rick Guidotti’s efforts to showcase all the beauty and difference in the world around us. From the Positive Exposure site, “The photos give people the permission to see beauty and interpret beauty in their own right.  Not to see beauty that is dictated by industry’s ideas of what is acceptable.  What started with photographs, has grown into a wide variety of programs created to empower people living with difference – and to educate the world around them.” We have included a link to the trailer – which features one snippet of language that might not be appropriate for all audiences – to which if you are lucky enough to ever see Rick speak in person, will warn you about!

At ASHG, Rick introduced the film, took questions, received a standing ovation, and very kindly dove into an hour-long (at least!) meet and greet line with the high school students (and 2014-rickandfans_ASHGahem, a few other, slightly-older-than-high-school age fans as well, see above).  There are many other projects aside from the film within Positive Exposures, such as physician education efforts and the Pearls Projectbut see the film if you can! It has been widely acclaimed, and rightly so.


ASHG Highlight: High School Workshop

What makes for a great athlete? How is genetic information being used to protect athletes? What can genetic testing for sports ability tell us about individuals or populations? These questions and more were tackled by a wonderful group of high school students and teachers at the High School Workshop that took place ahead of the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in San Diego.2014-ashg-DanaTalkingwithherHands Marnie and Dana had a wonderful time with these students, and were delighted to have the help of ASHG’s new Genetics and Education Fellow, Beth Tuck.  Check out some photos from the day, and the materials we presented are also available online -“Athletics and Genetics” and “Protecting Athletes with Genetic Conditions: Sickle Cell Trait“.  Photo credit to Beth Tuck!

Thank you, Maine Science Teachers’ Association for Dana Waring’s Marcoux Award!

pgEd’s Director of Education Dana Waring is honored to be the recipient of the 2014 Phillip Marcoux award for her successes in informal science education in the state of Maine. Dana has visited hundreds of students, often at the invitation of Maine Science Teacher Association members, talking about ethical, social and personal issues in genetics.  pgEd is thrilled to have our work recognized by such a wonderful organization, and is grateful for the warm welcome Dana and pgEd’s materials have received over the years.  Dana was especially thrilled to receive the award from Maria Palopoli, a 2009 Presidential Award winner for Excellence in Teaching for Math and Science, and currently a 5th grade teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe School in Brunswick, Maine. Maria Palopoli is also a Board member of the Maine Science Teacher Association.  At this year’s conference, in addition to receiving this award, Dana and Maria co-presented materials that updated teachers on advances in genetic engineering and used a mock court case developed by Maria to explore ethical and scientific issues.

pgEd heads back to DC: Congressional briefing on October 3rd

pgEd is thrilled to be holding its second Congressional briefing, as part of a series on advances in personal genetics and raising public awareness. This briefing, taking place in Washington, DC on Friday, October 3rd, will focus on emerging genetic technologies, genetic discrimination, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), alongside a research update on the Ebola outbreak and how genome sequencing of the Ebola virus is aiding in the fight to understand and contain the outbreak.

We are delighted to be holding this briefing in cooperation with the offices of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Our panel features a range of experts across several fields:  Mildred Cho, PhD, James Evans, MD, PhD, Nita Farahany, JD, PhD, Jessica Roberts, JD, Pardis Sabeti, MD, PhD, and Ting Wu, PhD. We’re looking forward to launching a new Map-Ed quiz on GINA at the briefing!

Details on the program are here.

Twitch – a new documentary in which a young woman bravely shares her story

This week, Marnie was thrilled to attend the Boston screening of Twitch, a poignant documentary by a courageous young woman named Kristen Powers, chronicling her mother’s diagnosis with Huntington’s Disease (HD) and her family’s story leading up to her decision to undergo genetic testing at the age of 18. Through interviews, the film shares the stories of other families affected by HD and explores some of the personal, familial, and social considerations in deciding if and when to get tested, including Kristen’s brother’s uncertainty. Ultimately, Kristen says, this is a very personal decision.

In the Q&A that followed, Kristen spoke passionately about her decision to make the film and her mission to raise awareness. Kristen hopes to release this film on-line as a resource for teachers to use in their classrooms. pgEd shares Kristen’s goal to start the conversation. For teachers interested in lessons exploring some of these issues, check out pgEd’s “Introduction to Personal Genetics.”

The Boston screening kicked off a national tour with upcoming dates in Delaware, Washington, D.C., Texas, Alabama, Spain, Iowa, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Click here to find out more. Can’t wait to see the movie? Learn more about Kristen’s decision to get tested and her results in this 2-part series in USA Today.)