Genomics has become a hot topic thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic. While people might be familiar with genomics-based techniques like contact tracing and PCR testing, the depth of science that underlies these tools is not widely understood. Genomics Aotearoa has partnered with Tūhura Otago Museum in an exhibition to highlight the power of genomics research and de-mystify the technology.
“Genomics as a science has already changed our lives, but it is going to have even more impact in the near future. The more we understand it, the more we can use it for our benefit.”, says Professor Peter Dearden, Director of Genomics Aotearoa. This exhibition seeks to share this understanding. Check out Peter's introduction the the exhibition on youTube, and listen to the discussions on RNZ and OAR FM.
“Tūhura Otago Museum has the largest science centre and science outreach team in the country”, says Marketing Manager Kate Oktay, “our mandate is to inspire curiosity, so we were thrilled to partner with the Genomics Aotearoa team on this, creating a visual aspect to communicate the science.”, she continued.
Some of the more remarkable uses of genomics featured in the exhibition include how long term space travel might affect astronauts, how DNA can both help and hinder criminal investigations, and how genomics can increase our understanding of the mechanisms of disease transmission.
Twins in Space
In 2015, Scott Kelly spent 340 days on board the International Space Station. His identical twin Mark stayed on Earth. NASA scientists used genomics to compare how their bodies changed and found that space radiation caused mutations in Scott’s genome, changing his DNA forever.
The Phantom of Heilbronn
Police in Germany thought they were tracking a serial killer in 1993 when DNA from an unknown person was linked to several murders. In 2003, police found their suspect: an innocent woman. Working in a cotton swab factory, the woman’s DNA transferred to the swabs she made, and police had used those swabs to collect evidence at crime scenes.
Research from Aotearoa helps fight COVID-19
Before Flight EK448 arrived in New Zealand via Dubai, scientists thought that the COVID-19 virus spread only though surface contact. Public health advice was to wash hands regularly and disinfect surfaces. After this flight, we learned that COVID-19 could be spread in breath droplets. Across the world governments updated advice, and masks became a first line defence in the pandemic.
Genome: Science of Life runs at Tūhura Otago Museum from Monday 2 May to Friday 27 May. Admission is free. Masks are required.