We are living in the genome generation. Genotype, variant, and DNA sequencing are no longer words just for scientists in the lab, as genetics expands into medical diagnostic testing, at-home ancestry kits, and ethical debates over privacy and data sharing. From high school students to policymakers on Capitol Hill, JAX is building bridges to make genetics learning accessible to all.
Genetics on Capitol Hill
The Jackson Laboratory had the unique opportunity to travel to Capitol Hill for the Congressional Life Sciences Fair on July 19, 2023. Hosted by the Coalition for Life Sciences and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the Congressional Life Sciences Fair serves to expose US Members of Congress and their staff to the biomedical research community and highlight how federal investment in medical research advances science, public health, and the economy.
This year’s Fair was held in the Rayburn House Office Building, the first event since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic. JAX was one of 15 organizations participating, bringing interactive, hands-on experiments to congressional leaders and their staff. Over 100 people were in attendance, including staff from congressional offices and committees.
JAX chose to spotlight our Teaching the Genome Generation™ (TtGG) program, a modern high school genetics curriculum designed by JAX Genomic Education. With the table full of pipettes, gels, and DNA samples, guests were able to practice many of the skills and techniques taught to high school teachers and students through the TtGG program.
“I’ve spoken about TtGG during countless meetings over my six years at JAX,” shared Jill Homer Stewart, director of federal government relations, “but being able to demonstrate what teachers and students do in a lab was invaluable.”
The JAX table had a constant stream of visitors during the two-hour event. Notable guests included staff from our delegation offices of Representatives Jared Golden (D-ME) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and Senator Angus King (I-ME).
The JAX table featured labs from Teaching the Genome Generation
Tyler, who works with Representative Jared Golden, practiced pipetting.
Ryan, who works with Representative Jahana Hayes, ran DNA gels.
Jon, who works with Senator Angus King, learned about genetics.
The youngest Fair attendees sharpened their pipetting skills.
Inquiry-based genetics curriculum
How do we prepare today’s youth for this genomics world we live in? To maximize impact, the TtGG program focuses on educators.
TtGG aims to enhance student learnings in genetics and genomics through teacher professional development. Through in-person or virtual training, TtGG provides teachers the content knowledge, teaching strategies, and resources needed to enhance student learning in genetics, genomics, and personalized medicine. In TtGG, students conduct classroom experiments, collect and analyze real data, and discuss the ethical complexities at the intersection of human genomics, research, and medicine.
The TtGG curriculum is divided into three major themes taught in an integrated fashion:
Laboratory methods involved in isolating, amplifying and detecting human DNA,
Computational and bioinformatics methods utilized in analyzing DNA, RNA or amino acid sequences, and
Bioethics involved in genetic testing and genetics research (JAX is pleased to be a long time collaboration partner with the Personal Genetics Education Project).
For some students, their high school science classes might be a stepping stone into a future career in the biomedical workforce. For others, it might be their last exposure to science before entering adulthood. Whatever their path, TtGG aims to empower students to approach decisions in careers, health, and life from a place of knowledge.
Since 2015, 296 teachers have been trained in the TtGG program and over 17,500 students have experienced TtGG lessons. Thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), all of the trainings, lessons, and labs are provided to teachers at no cost.
Reflections from a scientist-turned-educator
Jill Homer Stewart (left) and Christina Vallianatos (right) snap a photo in front of the capitol building on their way to the Fair.
It was a true honor to travel from Connecticut to Washington, DC for the day, representing JAX with my colleague Jill at the event. I never thought I would be walking up to Capitol Hill and through the halls of the House of Representatives, let alone with pipettes, DNA samples, and gel boxes in hand! Throughout my training as a scientist, and even more so in my current role as an educator, I’ve had a number of opportunities to bridge the gap between science and the society it serves. In fact, building bridges into communities and showcasing the potential of science was a big motivation for me to leave the research world and focus my career on science education. But never before have I had a chance to do so at such a high-profile event. The Fair was a special opportunity for JAX to connect with congressional staff, emphasize JAX’s commitment to education and research, and illustrate how support for science in an NIH-funded program like TtGG directly impacts today’s genome generation.