Igniting genomic literacy in the classroom

Empowering students to envision themselves as future scientists, innovators, and trailblazers

Igniting genomic literacy in the classroom
April 19, 2021

At Illumina, we are committed to furthering genomics literacy through STEM education to ensure equitable access for all. Building the future of genomics starts with inspiring today’s youth to be tomorrow’s scientists, inventors, and innovators. This begins with bringing genomics into the classroom, as we believe a robust STEM education is key to accelerating breakthroughs in genomics and realizing its potential to improve human health.

Laying the foundation for genomic literacy starts early, and resources tailored specifically to elementary and high school students remain limited.

"Extracting DNA from strawberries a favorite activity for my gifted third graders,” said Johnnie Keel, a teacher at Truman Elementary in Norman, OK. “I was disappointed thinking that the students would miss it this year because we can't have visitors due to COVID-19. You've saved the day. Thank you again for providing these materials."

For many teachers just like Ms. Keel, finding accessible ways to incorporate genomics into the classroom can be challenging. Resources exist, but traditional lesson plans barely scratch the surface.

That is why our Corporate Social Responsibility efforts focus on giving back to communities through partnership, collaboration, and volunteerism. This April, in honor of DNA Day, our STEM literacy programs are aimed at activating genomics in the classroom by partnering with educators to inspire the next generation of genomics leaders.

The future is bright

April 25th is National DNA Day and marks the successful completion of the Human Genome Project. Additionally, it honors the 1953 discovery of DNA’s double helix structure, which made the project possible. Today, the annual celebration enables Illumina to engage with the community and spark genomic curiosity among students, teachers, and the public.

During the month of April, our employees are connecting with approximately 40,000 students, teachers, and learners in these unique ways:

  • Strawberry DNA Extraction 
    • Demonstrating how DNA can be found in all living things, this activity is a favorite for elementary and middle school students. Illumina sent extraction kits for in-person and distance-learning environments to 580+ education groups, pairing more than 150 Illumina volunteers.
  • San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering
    • “Choose Your Own Adventure” – Genomics Edition
      • Our on-demand “Choose Your Own Adventure” activity invites students to see how genomics impacts the world around them. Students can choose what type of sample they would like to collect, where to collect it, and what type of analysis workflow to complete in a sequencing lab.
    • Careers in Biotech
      • This session gives high school students a behind the scenes look at jobs in biotech aimed at inspiring careers in STEM. Afterwards students join a real-time Q&A with scientists.
    • Curious Genes
      • This series of interactive games helps teach elementary school students the basics of DNA such as inherited traits.

Young learners are the innovators of tomorrow

Research shows[1] that students are eager to see hands-on genomics material in the classroom. In a recent study, 387 high school students were newly introduced to bioinformatics laboratories during a biology lesson. As a result, students demonstrated a better able to identify genes and make educated assumptions about expression and evolution – things that they had never been able to do before. After the study, students expressed excitement about getting to use the same platforms as real-life scientists. They even wanted to learn more about how they could continue to access the open-source platforms with which they interacted.

Today’s young learners will become the innovators and trailblazers that advance genomics and human health tomorrow. In 2020, the Illumina Corporate Foundation made more than $500,000 in donations specifically designed to address the issue of racial inequality found in education and STEM studies, and we are not stopping there. We are deeply committed to equitable access to STEM education for all students and our Future is Bright programming is just the beginning.

Follow Illumina’s DNA Day activities on social media: FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #Genomics4All.


[1] References:

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