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Vence Bonham: It's a pleasure to come to you this afternoon
to give you an update of what has happened over the last two years, and particularly
what's happened over the last three months with the Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibition.
So some of you've heard this before but I think it's important for both the audience
here and the audience that may be watching this on the web, that this relationship that
we have created with the Smithsonian Institution, and particularly with the National Museum
of Natural History, really came out of a conversation that happened now a little over two years
ago between Dr. Green and Dr. Clough, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,
where it was recognized that we have these two major federal agencies just 10 miles apart,
down the Red Line from each other, that really were not working together closely with regards
to science education and education of the public. And 2013 was an important year for
the field of genomics, with the 10th anniversary of completion of the Human Genome Project,
and the 60th anniversary of the publication of the Watson and Crick article.
So 2013 made sense to do something. So in June of 2011, we met at the Smithsonian Institution,
at the castle, with Dr. Clough, to talk about how we can really establish and build relationships
between the National Human Genome Research Institute and the Smithsonian Institution.
And out of that came the decision to establish the exhibition. And very quickly, the two
organizations came together to collaborate, to really think about how we think about what
is important for the public to know.
Teri presented the strategic plan. And if you go back to strategic plan, there's one
of the areas that we identified of the importance of enhancing the public's genomic literacy.
And that this relationship with the Smithsonian Institution was an opportunity to really -- to
begin to do that. So researchers, staff from the Genome Institute, researchers and staff
at Smithsonian Institution came together very quickly in the fall of 2011 to begin to establish
and develop the main messages, the focus, the topic areas to include in the exhibition
that you will visit tomorrow.
On June 13th, we had the press review, as Dr. Green stated, and the exhibition opened
to the public on June 14th of this year. And since then, there has been a lot of press,
both from scientific reporters as well as from exhibition/museum critics, that have
provided an opportunity to provide a perspective with regards to the exhibition, and it has
also provided us an opportunity to be a vehicle to disseminate information to the public.
The most recent review just came two weeks ago. And I never thought I would be focused
on looking for reviews from a New York Times review critic, but I became very much focused
on that, and was very pleased that Ed Rothstein, the critic at large for the New York Times,
was very pleased with the exhibition. And I encourage you to read the review if you
have not. That was published on August 28th in the New York Times.
So let me just take a minute, again, for the audience here, but also the audience on the
web, to let you know that we now are providing various opportunities for the public who are
not at the exhibition to also to be exposed to the content in the exhibition. And this
4,400-square-foot exhibition provides a broad range of topic areas and content of importance
for the public. But also included with the exhibition is a area that is really an interactive
area. It's called the Genome Zone. And one of the most exciting things about this exhibition
is the number of NIH scientists and trainees that are now volunteering and participating
in this Genome Zone to help to engage with the public with regards to activities.
Weekly there are activities going on where NIH scientists, not just Genome Institute
scientists, but NIH scientists and trainees are going down to the museum and engaging
with the public. We have post docs and graduate students that are participating in a program
called Genome Geeks, and we have research scientists in our intramural program, and
staff scientists in our extramural program that are participating in a program that's
called Scientist Is In. And this is an important opportunity for these scientists here at NIH
to actively engage with the public in a very personal way, to provide them information
and excite them about the work of the Institute.
So, a second component of the program is a website. There is a website that was established
just for this exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution and NHGRI, and the website is
unlockinglifescode.org. And this is a collaborative website that's focused on providing educational
tools as well as information about the exhibition. And within that website we provide information
that's actually timely information about things that are changing in the news. Within the
exhibition, there's a ticker. And that ticker is updated every month. And now, on the website,
when the ticker's updated, we're now providing these little short stories that link out to
provide more information. An example of one is around the HeLa cells and the decision
with the Lacks family that occurred over the summer. There are a variety of educational
resources on the website, including timeline and information for students and teachers,
as well as resources and images that can be used by teachers in their classrooms.
So one of the things that we provided, because we know not everyone is going to be able to
visit the exhibition here in Washington, D.C., or as it travels across the country, is that
there's a virtual tour that will be going live on the website as of this Wednesday,
which will provide an opportunity for you to take a tour and really see all of the different
sections of the exhibition, and to really explore the exhibition without actually attending
The website has been developed in a way so it can be used on iPads, and iPhones, on various
types of media so that it's not just your computer, your desktop computer, or your laptop,
but that you can actually use your various smartphones, and iPhones, and iPads.
Another area of the programming that I want to highlight is the collaboration we've done
with the Smithsonian Associates. With the Smithsonian Associates, which is a part of
the Smithsonian Institution, we've partnered with them to develop nine programs for the
public. And these are really targeted and marketed based on both the Smithsonian Associates'
past experiences of what the public is interested in, but as a way to make it engaging and entertaining,
but provide scientific, highly credible, quality information to the public on issues of importance
to them, and to expand their knowledge and interest with the field of genomics.
And the first one of those shows will occur this Thursday. It's on ancestry testing. And
we will have the opportunity for Gwen Ifill from Washington Week, and Lonnie Bunch, who's
the director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, to present information,
both genealogical information as well as genomic information about their own families. And
then after they have this conversation about the background information, they will go off
the stage, Dr. Aravinda Chakravarti from Johns Hopkins, Joanna Mountain from 23andMe, and
Charmaine Royal will be part of a conversation about what we can and can't tell today from
ancestry testing, and what are some of the limitations, what are some of the challenges,
what are some of the things that we're able to explore and understand?
So really seeking to both bring the engagement about things that we've identified that the
public is most interested in, ancestry testing, but also provide them information that will
be helpful as they may make decisions whether they want to participate in such genetic testing
in their own future. And this program sold out in two days. It's going to be at the Baird
Auditorium that holds 500 individuals. And it's clearly one that was receptive, that
there was a lot of interest here in the Washington, D.C. area. And as we help focus groups early
on in the development in the exhibition, one of the areas that was identified that the
public was really interested in was ancestry, and what genomics provided with regards to
understanding their ancestry.
So there's another program that will also occur on September 14th. On that -- a number
of the members of the individuals here in this room are going to participate in. It's
a scholarly meeting on ancestry issues and exploring, from different disciplines, the
African diaspora, and bringing both culture, genomics, and history together, and exploring
these issues. Sarah Tishkoff will be presenting. Various individuals will be presenting. Dr.
Bustamante will be participating in that. To explore a variety of issues with regards
to how we think about these issues from a scholarly perspective, and bringing knowledge
to other disciplines about the work that's going on in the field of genomics.
So there's a number of things that are happening as part of this exhibition initiative. The
website, the programming, but then the -- really the jewel is the exhibition itself. And the
exhibition itself could not have happened without a number of individuals. And I'm just
referring you to a web link on the Unlocking Life's Code website where we've identified
the members of our advisory board, as well as the individuals across both the Museum
of Natural History and the Genome Institute that participated in this process. And many
people at this table, right here, this council table, participated in various roles, from
being interviewed, from participating as a consultant and providing expert advice as
we were developing the content. And it's only because of the team of individuals that have
been involved this project has really become, I think, the exciting jewel that it has developed
So, again, the strategic plans said one of our missions is to help to enhance the genomic
literacy of the public. And as Eric stated, more than a million people have gone through
this exhibition in just three months. The exhibition will be at the Smithsonian museum
until September of 2014. And then it will go to San Diego, to the Fleet Museum. And
it will go across the country, and then throughout North America.
And I want to end making a statement that I made back in the fall of 2011, when we presented
at a town hall meeting for the Institute. And I made a comment about the African proverb
that it takes a village to raise a child, and I made the statement that it was going
to take an institute to create an exhibit. And that was so true, and there were so many
people involved, and participated in this, that I can't acknowledge all the people involved,
either on this council or that are within the Institute, but there are two people that
I feel it's important for me to identify and to recognize, because I'm really just kind
of the spokesperson up here. But there's two other individuals that have played such an
important role that I always mention their names.
One is Dr. Larry Brody, the branch chief of genome technology in our intramural program,
played a major role and made a major commitment to the quality of the content of the exhibition.
And Dr. Carla Easter, who's the deputy chief of the Education and Community Involvement
Branch. But it was really a team of all the individuals here at the Institute that made
So the ride is just beginning. This will continue for the next four years. But if you think
about the number of people we've already reached in the public, of over a million people engaging
and experiencing the exhibition, and the numbers that are already being reached through the
website, the impact of this exhibition in enhancing the genomic literacy of the public,
I think we're off to a great start. So with that, I'll take any questions.
Eric Green: Before we take questions, Vence, completely
misspoke in one the things he said. Near the very end he said he's just a spokesman of
this. This is a ridiculous understatement. Maybe the metaphor he's the grand conductor,
but believe me, none of this would have happened if Vence didn't show spectacular leadership
of this very complicated and multi-faceted endeavor for the last two-plus years. By the
way, he also has three other jobs at the Institute. This was all done in his spare time, but I
think it probably consumed at least 45 hours a week for the last year. So, spokesperson
is not accurate, grand conductor might be better, so. Questions, or -- oh.
So, questions or comments? And I will also say that for council members, it also wouldn't
have been possible without a remarkable group of individuals we've gotten to be friends
with down at the National Museum of Natural History. They were equally receptive partners,
it was great. And you -- council members when we're there tomorrow, I've just gotten confirmation
that two of the senior leaders, including the director of the museum, will be there.
And the exhibition I believe -- introduce you to them, and you'll see these -- they
have terrific leadership, and they also have great staff. I don't know if some of them
might be there as well who are involved.
So, questions or comments for Vence? Yeah.
Female Speaker: Thanks, Vence, for a great presentation and
project. I'm just wondering if you have a sense of how many people have seen the exhibition?
Vence Bonham: So, it's over a million people. So it opened
on June 14th. Now we hit the hot -- the high season for the museum, okay? The Natural History
Museum sees over 7 million individuals annually. And we opened in June, and based on the estimates
from the museum, over a million people have been through the exhibition. And one of the
things that we're learning -- we're -- actually is currently is going on is evaluation, and
part of that is they watch people within the exhibition and see how long they stay at different
stations, how long they stay within the hall, and then they have surveys that they'll provide,
so we'll have data to be able to share in the future.
But this exhibition has been identified by the staff at the museum as one where people
stay much longer than many other parts of the museum itself. And it's an opportunity
really to kind of engage in a different kind of way. And one -- I guess one of the real
joys for me has been going and observing, and just watching people in the exhibition
hall: watching parents interact with their children, watching young people interact with
some of the interactive, and watching just individuals, how they are thinking, and exploring,
and acting with the various components of the exhibition.
And so I think it has -- really has done more than just provide information. It has provided
an opportunity for people to really engage into the topic area. The last comment I would
make related to that is we had a concern early on whether we were going to be able to really
integrate the societal issues into the exhibition. And it's very clear we were successful with
that, that issues of importance, the challenges of the field of genomics, the ethical questions,
have been integrated in a way that clearly comes up in some of the reporting that's occurred
since then, but as you see people interact within the exhibition hall.
Male Speaker: Vence, I really like it. And I'm -- but I
also like this idea of the ancillary programming. So is that also going to be available? Are
you going to videotape that, and that be available?
Vence Bonham: Yes. So --
Male Speaker: Can you -- before -- and is that -- is that
transferable to the other sites as well? Can they follow up on that, or is that kind of
protected underneath the Smithsonian?
Vence Bonham: No, no. Yes, all of the resources and the
things that are developed will be videotaped and go up on the web. There is a series of
six talks that will occur starting in January, that are going to be like TED-like talks,
that are going to be short, scientific talks that will be part of the web. And the materials,
actually on the 14th, are going to be taped and appropriately edited, and go up on the
web. And our hope is, as this travels around the country, that we will have an opportunity
to really engage and partner with those local communities.
Our plan is, is actually to have some demonstration projects that we will do in various sites
to support programming, hoping to provide resources, to provide scientists, to provide
the experience here, so those unique situations in those communities can be really customized
for the needs of that specific geographic area.
Eric Green: By the way, one thing that neither Vence nor
I talked about, now that I think about it, is in addition to everything you just heard
about the exhibition and associated programming, there's -- part of the reason why the Smithsonian
was very enthusiastic and why this partnership has taken off in many ways is because the
Smithsonian, as a scientific institution, has gotten very interested in genomics. And
so on a whole separate thread of meetings that I've been involved in, I've taken some
of my staff from my intramural program, they are developing their own -- they're basically
infusing genomics into a lot of their comparative biology studies, and thinking about -- they're
doing a lot of collections, especially now with frozen materials and things that will
include eventually sequencing and developing their own infrastructure for that.
And so we've become, you know, really collaborators and certainly consultants, and have looked
at ways of enhancing that scientific interaction, even in discussions about maybe possible joint
-- you know, post-doctoral fellowships, they spend some time up with us and maybe some
time down there at the Smithsonian. Again, using that 10-mile difference in where we
are from each other has some scientific opportunities as well.
Bob, and then there was someone else?
Male Speaker: Vence, have you had any pushback from people
who are perhaps not that enamored of using genomics as an ancestry tool, or are not that
interested in the use of genomics for tools to study things like evolution?
Vence Bonham: So, no, we have not had that direct kind of
response. This event that will occur on the 14th will not all be pro-use of genomics for
ancestry. And particularly the scholarly meeting, I think, will be an engaging, exciting day
where some people are saying, "This is really not how you understand someone's identity
and their background." A number of our grantees are speaking and participating in that day,
as well as historians and individuals who are not focused on using genomic information
to understand history.
Male Speaker: Just compliment you on a number of great things.
Well done. One of the things I liked was the Scientist in Session and the Genome Geek.
That seems to make it more active and far less passive as an exhibit. Can you take that
on the road some way as it moves around?
Vence Bonham: So this -- clearly, this model, what we're
going to be doing is putting together really kind of what happened over this year in a
way as a toolkit that we can share with other communities related to the exhibition itself.
And, you know, clearly, the ability to take the Red Line, for a scientist to go down to
the museum, or a post doc, is easy for us. And it provides this opportunity for NIH scientists.
But when it travels, we hope to work with academic institutions within that geographic
area to do something similar, and so that scientists and trainees within the various
academic institutions can participate with their science center or their museum, with
regards to the program.
Eric Green: So along -- there's a reason -- you mentioned
the first place it's going to go, a year from September, or whenever it's going to be, is
San Diego. There's a longer list of where it's going after; not all that's public yet.
But we very much wanted it to at least touch some of the major footprints where we have
significant genomics presence. And many of you around this table even have gotten letters
from me early on trying to get you to be interacting with your local museum. I mean, there are
some genome geeks in San Diego. I'm expecting our San Diego colleagues here will find other
geeks and trainees. And so I think that part of it can be replicated, and for some of the
cities it's going to go to, there should be plenty of individuals.
It's going to St. Louis -- am I allowed to say that? I don't know if I'm allowed to say
that, but it is going to St. Louis, another place I'm sure -- I know Rick is already,
I'm sure, working, I mean, they already have a relationship with the local science museum.
And other places where we have big genomics footprints. We love to see that replicated,
and we can help facilitate that by telling them what we did.
Vence Bonham: Thank you very much.
Rudy Pozzatti: All right, thank you, Vence. All right, we're
going to take a break now because the cafeteria upstairs closes a little after 3:00. So can
we be back by 3:10? We still have more work to do. All right? Thank you.