Diving Into the Gene Pool


The core of "Diving into the Gene Pool" includes the following groups of exhibits:

DNA: Your Genetic Blueprint

DNA is the carrier of genetic information in every cell of a living organism. The blueprints for an organism are contained in a very tiny package - individual packets of information are called genes.

  • Cells - computer-based animations about cellular components and activities (including the nucleus and DNA) coupled to a videodisc.
  • DNA the Master Molecule - observation of the precipitation of sticky DNA strands out of solution.
  • Protein Production Line - a hands-on model of DNA, RNA, and amino acids demonstrating and exploring the processes of transcription and translation.
  • Molecular Library - an interactive computer library of three-dimensional molecular structures including DNA and proteins.
  • Panning for DNA - A regularly performed isolation of DNA from calf thymus gland conducted by our Explainer (docent) staff. This dramatic demonstration provides visitors with an opportunity to appreciate the mass of DNA in cells and gives them a first-hand opportunity with the DNA.
  • Map Analogy - a graphical presentation of the size, scale, and location of the human genome in comparison to the Earth.

Tools for Decoding DNA

DNA technology gives us access to new information and allows for direct manipulation of an organism's genome. Mapping an organism's genetic information provides a powerful key to the organism.

  • Cracking the Code - an interactive computer-based presentation of the development of the automated DNA sequencer and molecular view of a sequencing experiment and subsequent analysis
  • Dancing DNA - observation and manipulation of real individual DNA strands moving in an electric field and viewed through a microscope, showing the basis by which DNA segments of different lengths are separated in a electrophoretic gel.
  • DNA Race - a computer program modeling the movement of DNA through a gel. Here visitors may rapidly manipulate simulated DNA in a simulated gel.
  • DNA Fingerprinting - an interactive electrophoretic gel containing DNA
  • Discovery to Therapy - an exploration of the difference between discovering a gene and finding a cure. Timeline of research.
  • Sorting by Size - a mechanical model using only balls and segments of chain to create a mechanical analog of the process of DNA separation by gel electrophoresis.

Learning From Our Relatives

All living things are genetically related (we share 97% of our genes with mice). Differences between species are caused by mutations or variations in the genome. Studying other organisms gives us understanding about ourselves

  • DNA and the Developing Embryo - a microscopic display of living zebrafish embryos. These particular fish rapidly develop from eggs to fry in only 48 hrs. Their eggs are water-clear. This makes the display of these remarkable changes visible and dramatic to watch.
  • Zebrafish Peepshow - a 18 tank display of a Zebrafish colony highlighting the fish's behavior.
  • Musical Mutants - a computer-based whimiscal and musical exploration of the effects of various kinds of mutations on protein sequences in different organisms
  • Tank of Mutants - a display of many of the variations found in one particular species of fish. Genetic variations are the touchstone of genetists for insight into the development of an organism. Here we display a small subset of the variations or mutations found in zebrafish.
  • Mutant Flies - a display of various morphological and behavioral mutations in fruit flies (fruit flies have been important in studies of genetics, partly because of the similarity of fruit fly genes and human genes, and because of their rapid reproduction)
  • Prehistoric Insects - an interactive display of insects and other organism trapped in ancient amber. None of the observed species are currently alive but all lived some 25 to 40 million years ago.
  • Mutant Detector - a somewhat silly exhibit based on the notion that we all carry a number of mutations within us.

Sex & Inheritance

Sexual reproduction mixes up genes and makes us unique (it takes two to make three). Traits are passed from one generation to another

  • Sickling Cells - observation of physical change in human blood cells containing sickling hemoglobin, from someone with sickle-cell anemia, through modification of the oxygen concentration; the exhibit shows the molecular structure of hemoglobin and how the HbS polymerizes due to a changed amino acid on the surface of the beta-S chain
  • Sickle Cell Counselor - an interactive multimedia exhibit which lets visitors play the role of a genetic counselor in making recommendations and providing guidance to prospective parents. The computer program provides a sophisticated learning environment and presents the genetic science behind Sickle Cell disease and possible options.
  • Genetic Characteristics - a computer-based self-examination of various inherited characteristics emphasizing the uniqueness of the individual
  • Human Genome Map - a large-scale map of human gene locations super imposed upon a large scale karyotype map of human chromosomes.
  • Blood Typing - determining a blood type through a fully automated anti-sera reaction device using A, B, and O blood from a blood bank, coupled with information concerning genetic distribution of blood types.
  • Father's Nose - a simple look at inheritance using mirrors and clear areas in a panel. Two people can sit across from one another and gaze at each other and see a composite image of their own face and their partner's. The concept here is that genes for specific features are expressed discretely and not as a blend.
  • Egg Fertilization Demonstration - a regularly scheduled demonstration introducing the concepts of meiosis and mitosis through a display of the fertilization of sea urchin eggs, or other suitable preparation, under microscopic view.

Points of View

Ethical considerations are integral to the human genome. Here we provide visitors with an snap shot genetic issues and the surrounding debate and ask them to participate via pen and paper and computer.

  • Bioethics Internet Station - This computer-based exhibit will be an Exploratorium created World Wide Web page with connections to an on-going bioethics roundtable discussion via a listserve group and pointers to the areas of scientific interest on the human genome.
  • Talk Back Boards - Visitors will be given the opportunity to express their own views on the ethical issues raised by genetic research. At four separate tables various ethical dilemmas will be posed and visitors will be invited to respond with their opinions via 3 X 5 cards which Exploratorium staff will post at regular intervals.
  • Genes in the News - A broadly based collection of recent articles focused on genetic news. The short articles will come from newspapers and journals.

The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco CA 94123