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Why do we have a DNA Day?

Image of DNA Day Logo DNA Day will be celebrated in Canada this year on Tuesday, April 21. It is held every year around this time to celebrate Watson and Crick’s publishing of their model of DNA. But it is more than a celebration: it is an opportunity to interact with some of Canada’s foremost genomic scientists. It is your chance to ask questions, the answers to which will help you better understand modern genomics.
At any given time, there are a lot of issues in the media that could lead to some very good questions about DNA. Recently, a poll showed that over 80% of Americans wished to see warning labels on the foods that contain DNA. This led Washington Post writer Ilya Somin to imagine a warning label something like this:

WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.
Perhaps this will lead you to ask the question ‘what happens to DNA in the foods we consume?’

Another issue that made big news this past week was the announcement that the ‘U.K. House of Commons OKs making babies from DNA of 3 people’. The reason for attempting this is to help some parents overcome the high possibility that their children will be born with an inherited form of mitochondrial disease. I saw several newscasts exclaiming that this would result in a change in DNA forever after. Perhaps this was said just to get us thinking. It certainly had me wondering if it makes a difference if a three-parent boy is born compared to a girl born with the same intervention. Does that make a difference? Is mitochondrial DNA inherited differently than nuclear DNA? Those are questions to ask the experts on DNA day.

I don’t know if this one has hit the mainstream media yet, but I’m sure it will before DNA Day: the concept of biological age compared to actual age. There is the notion that perhaps death can be predicted or certainly linked to accelerated biological changes to DNA. Will our DNA panel want to explore that?

Ethical questions are often raised on DNA Day. Perhaps this year someone will be asking about the B.C. company which is providing free genomics cancer tests to 2,000 Canadians. Would this have been possible a few years ago? Even last year such tests could have cost up to $5,000 each. Somewhat related to that is the recent announcement by President Obama when he was talking about precision medicine. He noted that “Every dollar we spent to map the human genome has already returned $140 to our economy”. What did he mean? What is precision medicine? Is it different from personalized medicine? What role does Canada play in all of this?

I have presented you with just a very few of the many ideas that you might think about prior to this year’s DNA Day. I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s format that will be rolled out soon. It promises to be a tremendous experience for adults and students alike who have curiosity and an inquiring mind for cutting edge science.

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Why do we have a DNA Day?

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