News Release

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NHGRI collaborates with Smithsonian to produce new genome exhibit

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the completion of the first complete human genome sequence — the genetic blueprint of the human body — the Smithsonian Institution will open a high-tech, high-intensity exhibit in 2013. The exhibit is a collaboration of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health.

Life Technologies Corp. of Carlsbad, Calif., has pledged $3 million to fund the exhibit. More than an additional $500,000 has been raised through the Foundation for The National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., from the Brin Wojcicki Foundation of Park Alto, Calif.; Celgene Corporation of Summit, N.J.; Pacific Biosciences of Menlo Park, Calif., and Pacific Biosciences president and chief executive officer Mike Hunkapiller, Ph.D., and his wife Beth; New England Biolabs of Ipswich, Mass.; and Genentech of South San Francisco, Calif.

“The completed sequence of the human genome gave us the first glimpse of the massive instruction book that orchestrates all the complexities of human biology,” said NHGRI Director Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D. “We want to help the public see how the Human Genome Project has given birth to a modern era of genomics, expanding our knowledge of the human body in health and disease and our understanding of biodiversity in the natural world. What better place to explore genomics than the National Museum of Natural History, where a personal introduction to the human genome will illustrate the likely impact of genomics on our future?”

The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990, with support from the U.S. government and a number of international research institutions. The goal was to explore the human genome in a fashion that would lay a foundation for better understanding genetic contributions to health and disease. To help reach this goal, scientists sequenced the genomes of other organisms to help understand how genomes function. These explorations provided powerful insights into how genomes contribute to the evolution, development and diversity of all living things.

“At the heart of nature's diversity lays the genome — not just the genomes of humans but the genomes of all living things,” said NMNH Director Cristian Samper, Ph.D.“The Human Genome Project has empowered not just a revolution in medicine, but a revolution in evolutionary studies. For the first time, we can look into evolution's notebook and see the experiments carried out over evolutionary time. We can track a genetic function from one diverging species to the next, from microbes right up to man. We can see how genes change and evolved while maintaining biological functions essential for survival. This exhibit at the 10th anniversary of the first mammalian genome — the human genome — will examine it all.”

In addition to celebrating the completion of the Human Genome Project, the exhibit will also commemorate the 60th anniversary of Drs. Francis Crick and James D. Watson's discovery of DNA's double helix in 1953. That revolutionary discovery laid the foundation for understanding how DNA encodes and copies genetic information to pass on to the next generation.

"We are at an inflection point in the history of biology. What science has taught us about genomics in the last 10 years will undoubtedly be dwarfed by the revolutionary advancements to come," said Gregory T. Lucier, chairman and chief executive officer of Life Technologies. "The goal of the Life Technologies Foundation through its lead sponsorship is to educate visitors to this exhibition on the powerful information we can now unlock within their DNA as a result of the Human Genome Project and the impact it will have in medicine and their daily lives."

The NMNH exhibit, now in development, will be organized around several themes, including the Genome and You, the Natural World, Health and Humanity. The exhibit will present key insights about the human genome to museum's approximately 7 million annual visitors . It will provide museum goers with new ways to look at themselves as individuals, as members of a family, and as a species that is part of the diversity of life on the planet. They will discover how scientists use genomics to establish links between genes and specific diseases and traits, as well as the latest advances in genomic medicine, prenatal testing and genomically guided drug therapy. The exhibit will attempt to dispel common misconceptions about genetics and genomics, and challenge visitors to think more deeply about the complex ethical, legal, social and environmental issues raised by genomic advances.

The approximately 2,500-square-foot exhibit will occupy NMNH's Hall 23, the exhibition hall that typically houses temporary exhibits, but an appropriate venue since humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. After at least a year at the museum, the exhibit will travel to venues around the nation and the world. The exhibit will be accompanied by free educational resources and programs on genetics and genomics.

About SI: Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian is the world's largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities.

About NMNH: The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world's preeminent museum and research complex. The Museum is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning about the natural world through its unparalleled research, collections, exhibitions, and education outreach programs.

About the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health: Established by the United States Congress to support the mission of the NIH — improving health through scientific discovery in the search for cure — the Foundation for the NIH is a leader in identifying and addressing complex scientific and health issues. The Foundation is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization that raises private-sector funds for a broad portfolio of unique programs that complement and enhance the NIH priorities and activities. For additional information about the Foundation for the NIH, visit

About NHGRI: NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the NIH. NHGRI supports the development of resources and technology that will accelerate genome research and its application to human health. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at its website,

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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