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Discovery World Tackles Genomics in Collaborative Exhibit

Did you ever wonder why you can roll your tongue and your relative can't? Or, why your earlobes are attached (or unattached)?

Discovery World is joining with the Medical College of Wisconsin to display a traveling health sciences exhibit created by the Smithsonian that seeks to provoke thought about these and other topics.

The exhibit, called Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code, explores the mapping of the human genome and its implications on health, health care choices and other practical and ethical concepts.

"I think the exhibit is designed to really take visitors through the genome - (how) we can use that information for not only understanding basic biology, understanding human biology and how human populations relate to each other. And then taking it to the next step where we're starting to use this information almost on a daily basis to really change health care," says Dr. Matt Anderson, medical director for the diagnostic laboratories at the Blood Center of Wisconsin and an assistant professor at the Medical College.

Discovery World CEO Joel Brennan describes genomic mapping as "the next frontier of personalized medicine." He compares the importance of mapping on the advancement of health sciences to what the moon landing did for space exploration.

Both Brennan and Anderson aim for the exhibit to make discussions about genomics more common, and less intimidating.

From a medical perspective, Anderson hopes visitors will learn information to communicate with their physicians about what genetics testing means for them. "What does this mean to my family members,  reproductive health, etc.?" says Anderson. "Just having a more literate and engaged population will help all of us as we use this more often in health care."

While Brennan acknowledges the exhibit may not have all the answers or take a position on every topic, "the goal is to encourage questions." He adds, "Not just questions that are asked in board rooms and at the Medical College, but things that people start to talk about around their kitchen table with their families."

The exhibit opens January 23 and runs through April 25 at Discovery World.

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.