DNA Day 2020 UF DNA Day goes online

Each year April 25th marks National DNA Day, which commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and marks the discovery of DNA's double helix in 1953. This year the UF Genetics Institute celebrated UF DNA Day in a new way. Each year UF scientists are typically sent to schools around the state to talk about DNA and engage with students in person, but this year with public schools being taught online in the spring due to COVID-19, the program evolved into a virtual outreach event.

2019 DNA Day Ambassadors

The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances impact their lives. Shannon Barry, a graduate assistant at UF, shared about her involvement in the planning and implementation of UF’s first virtual DNA Day.

“UF DNA Day had great activities that were going to be in the lessons this year, like extracting DNA from Caenorhabditis elegans to an antibiotic resistance game, which was about fire blight of pear,” Barry said. “The process in getting these activities ready took around half a year. Due to COVID-19, the program shifted to being online. The big question I was asking myself was: How are we going to make this program engaging without the face-to-face interaction and the activities? I've been preparing for this program since August and the program had to shift its course close to the start date.”

Shannon Barry

The modules developed for this year’s DNA Day were plant immunity and pharmacogenomics. Barry stated that she wanted to have both biomedical and agricultural science topics so that the students could be exposed to broader sciences. Barry was able to teach these modules virtually to several schools around the state.

“I had a great experience presenting to the students about the topics this year,” Barry said. “Even though it was online, I felt like students enjoyed learning about the topics and about all the sciences they can pursue. I got great questions from the students. The questions were on fields of sciences they're interested in, opportunities they could be involved in those fields of interest, the diversity of people in sciences, and even my own love for the sciences.”

Outreach programs like UF DNA Day have the capacity to challenge and inspire both the scientist and the student, according to Barry.

“Programs like UF DNA Day are very important,” Barry said. “Outreach programs get scientists out of their settings into one that they're not used to. It helps scientist learn how to communicate their research and their field better. My favorite quote is ‘science not communicated is science not done.’ Outreach programs teach scientists how to make their research more accessible to the public. As an audience for example, I would ask ‘what do you do and why is it important,’ and I believe outreach programs help scientist be able to answer that question to any age groups and background.

The UF DNA Day program has continued to grow and Barry stated that she thinks it will continue to improve and evolve. She foresees more universities getting involved and more virtual elements being included in future years.

“My goal is to have every Florida high school be able to participate in this program,” Barry said. “Working with other universities can help reach schools that are long ways away from the Gainesville area. I also believe that this program should have online activities for any students to be able to access them from their homes or any other location they're at. I'm in the process of making an online educational game for students that can be fun, interactive, and educational.”

Though UF DNA Day looked a little different this year, Barry believes it was a success and she’s excited to see what the future has in store for the program.