How do you describe genomics without using the word “genomics”?

This was the challenge that Genetic Counsellor and Social Scientist Anna Middleton has taken on in her new project, “Socialising the Genome“. Fifteen years since the human genome was first mapped, scientists are still trying to figure out the best ways to have meaningful conversations about genomics with the public. Despite living in the age of the genome, the last Wellcome Trust Monitor survey that explores public attitudes to science and scientific education, found that only 12% of respondents felt they had a good understanding of what a genome is.

Socialising the Genome aims to understand how to make genomics a more social concept, developing narratives and themes that can open up this complex, somewhat arcane field to wider public understanding. 

‘These are questions that I’ve been thinking about my whole career,’ explains Anna. ‘Genetic information is not only important to individuals but also potentially to those nearest and dearest too – it really is a social concept’.

Six UK focus groups were conducted to find out what people already understand about DNA and genomics, and the results were channelled into a series of delightfully quirky animations covering the similarities between genomics and gnomes, the “gene deck shuffle”, and dodgy DNA dealings (or not). 

As genomic medicine advances from lab to clinic, looking set to affect all our lives at one time or another, there is a real and pressing need for public engagement projects like Socialising the Genome. Without getting a public conversation started, there is a real risk that confusion, mistrust and even pseudo-science will rush in to fill the gap.  

You can view all the animations at www.genetube.org. Let us know which is your favourite!