Mission and History
Genome Sciences Education Outreach is committed to the improvement of science education in K-12 schools through the development of programs that immerse teachers and students in learning about genetics and genomics, conducting authentic research, and considering ethical issues related to genomic research. We work closely with teachers, school administrators, scientists, and ethicists to ensure that programs address the needs of classrooms and accurately reflect the science and ethics being taught.
Early in 1993, the faculty of the newly formed Department of Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Washington held a brainstorming session to discuss how the department might make a substantial impact on pre-college science education. Influenced by the passionate desire of one Washington science teacher to sequence DNA, Dr. Maynard Olson, Director of the UW Genome Center, suggested that high school students might contribute to the Human Genome Project (HGP) through an inter-classroom DNA sequencing collaboration. That discussion lead to the birth of the High School Human Genome Program, one of many grant-funded science education projects carried out by Genome Science Education Outreach.
Through the High School Human Genome Program and the StarNet Project, high school students around the Puget Sound area and other regions sequenced portions of human DNA in their classrooms under the direction of their teachers. Early sequencing projects included a small region of the BRCA-1 gene; a region of the genome implicated in an autosomal deafness disorder under study by Dr. Mary Claire King's lab; the gene for the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; and the CYP2A6 gene, which codes for a protein involved in nicotine breakdown. Teacher and student manuals for DNA sequencing are available in the Instructional Materials section of this site. Like the HGP, the student project included a focus on ethical issues related to genomic research. This resulted in the development of the ethics unit, Presymptomatic Testing for Huntington's Disease.
GESO is also committed to making genetics accessible to younger students. Through the GENETICS Project (1999-2003), we provided professional development for elementary, middle, and high school teachers and worked to identify and develop outstanding genetics instructional materials. The emphasis of the instructional materials developed through this project was to make genetic concepts more understandable through modeling activities that used inexpensive everyday materials. Many of these activities are available for download in the Instructional Materials section of this site.
Our most recent projects have involved students in conducting epidemiological research on smoking behavior. Through StarNet: Investigating the Effects of Genes and the Environment on Smoking Behavior, high school students contributed as scientists to a research investigation that asked the question, "Why do some people smoke while others do not?" This study compared nearly 300 adult smokers and nonsmokers who had tried smoking but not become regular smokers. Subjects completed a research questionnaire and gave a small sample of blood, which was used for genotyping in three candidate regions. Students contributed to the smoking study by writing questions for the research questionnaire and genotyping subject DNA. The questionnaire and genotyping data were entered into a queriable database, which forms the centerpiece for our latest curriculum, Exploring Databases, which guides students through the process of conducting authentic research by using the database to test their own hypotheses about how genes and the environment influence smoking behavior. These modules are available for download in the Instructional Materials section.