Genomics in the Classroom
It is of vital importance to ensure that future generations understand the genomic concepts necessary to make informed and responsible decisions about how they—and their children—will be living their lives.
When historians look back at this turning of the millennium, they will note that the major scientific breakthrough of the era was the characterization in ultimate detail of the genetic instructions that a make a human being. The information generated by the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 is now–only 13 years later–affecting just about every branch of biology.
The complete DNA sequencing of more and more organisms, including humans, will revolutionize biology and medicine and spawn a plethora of technologies aimed at addressing many critical questions, such as how organisms evolve and the nature of their relationship with their particular environment, whether synthetic life will ever be possible, how transformative agricultural research can help feed our planet’s growing population, and how to treat a wide range of medical disorders.
“Genomics”—defined as the study of the functions and the interactions of all the genes in living organisms, including their interactions with environmental factors—is an area where people of all ages lack the background to understand and evaluate the new popular press headlines reporting genomics-based research. University students, for example, seldom encounter genomics in undergraduate general biology classrooms. At the graduate level, the topic might be part of a curriculum in some specialized areas of the sciences, engineering, or healthcare but even that is unusual. Thus, a significant proportion of college-educated citizens have little or no understanding of genomics whatsoever.
At the high school level, even fewer people will have had exposure to basic genomics concepts. As genomics continues to influence healthcare and our fundamental understanding and manipulation of the world, it is becoming vitally important for everyone to have a basic understanding of the genome sciences and technologies, and the ethical, social and policy ramifications of their application. This is especially true of high school students who always will be the true beneficiaries of the promise of genomics in the future.