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National DNA Day Essay Contest and Survey Highlight Need for Genetic Science Education

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In commemoration of National DNA Day, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), the Genetics Society of America (GSA) and Applied Biosystems, an Applera Corporation business, have announced the winners of the first National DNA Day high school essay contest as part of an expanded effort to help raise awareness among the general public and students and teachers about the need for more extensive genetic science education and the value of human genetics research.

The winning essayists, selected from 1,200 entries spanning 34 states across the country, were announced during the National DNA Day online chat and on ASHG’s Web site.

A new U.S. consumer survey1 of 2,256 adults found that those who are familiar with the Human Genome Project, which mapped out human DNA, are likely to believe that the project could result in positive benefits to human health. 

For instance, 54 percent of those adults familiar with the Human Genome Project believe that cures for diseases such as cancer and diabetes could be found in the next 15 years as a result of the project. 

On the other hand, less than one in ten (9 percent) parents of school-aged children believe that studying genetics is absolutely essential to their child’s high school education.

"When the public understands the work being done in genetic science, they see how the research can benefit the human condition," said Joann Boughman, Ph.D., executive vice president of ASHG.

"In order to make the potential of genetic research a reality, we need to ensure that future genetic scientists are trained in our schools today."

"To achieve that goal, we are launching our expanded effort to raise awareness about the value of genetic science education and human genetics research."

As part of their National DNA Day activities, ASHG, along with GSA and Applied Biosystems, invited high school students across the country to submit written essays on one of two questions:  (1) Why is it important for everyone to know about DNA and genetics? and (2) If you were a genetics researcher, what would you like to study and why?

ASHG and GSA members, in conjunction with representatives from Applied Biosystems, the sole corporate sponsor, judged the essays on the basis of critical thinking, scientific accuracy, creativity and organization.  

Jocelyn Lam of King's High School in Bothell, Washington and Alaina K. Hahn in Tualatin High School in Tualatin, Oregon each won a $350 grand prize for their essays on the first and second questions, respectively.

Applied Biosystems also awarded a total $5,000 worth of laboratory research equipment to the essay winners’ teachers, Sharon Santucci and John Kahle, to help support genetics and biotechnology education in their classrooms.  

National DNA Day events are a collaboration of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), ASHG, GSA, the Genetic Alliance, the National Society of Genetic Counselors and Applied Biosystems.

"Over the past 25 years, we have been making research discoveries at a rapid pace. However, it is critical that the genetics community also raise awareness about how genetics research today can improve tomorrow’s healthcare," remarked Dennis A. Gilbert, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Applied Biosystems.

"Universities, hospitals, private and public companies, policy makers and professional organizations like ASHG and GSA are essential to this effort. If the public is uninformed, confused or afraid of genetics research, progress is less likely to find a clinical home."