Hands-on genomics at Orkney International Science Festival 2017

Date: 28 September 2017

Our Public Engagement team headed north to get stuck into Orkney International Science Festival 2017

This September the Wellcome Genome Campus Public Engagement team, armed with a suitcase laden with colourful DNA plastic balls, rope chromosomes and replica archaeological artefacts, headed north to join the Orkney International Science Festival. Across three days the team met with over 200 Orcadians at schools and public events.

Primary school pupils got hands-on with the ‘Strands of Time’ workshop, using genetics and archaeology to discover what we can learn about the past. The story at the centre of Strands of Time explores the people that once inhabited the Wellcome Genome Campus from the DNA and the objects they left behind and Orkney, with its rich archaeological heritage, provided wonderful comparisons and touch points for the children to engage with.

Dr Steve Scott gave an evening talk on ‘The Genomics Revolution and You’, which explored the rapid advancements made in genomics over the last 25 years, asking the audience to consider where they would like advances to be made in the future. The audience used voting handsets to share their views on questions like ‘who should have access to your genomic data?’ and ‘what would you want to find out about from your genome?’.

The talk generated some interesting and thoughtful discussion with the audience. The team also staged this talk the following day with students and teachers at Kirkwall Grammar School, and it was interesting to compare responses between younger and older generations. It was surprising to see how both audiences were quite cautious about sharing their genomic data, and that younger audiences were more interested in knowing their risk of preventable genetic diseases.

The festival was brought to a close with a lively ceilidh, with participants drinking heartily from the traditional cup of friendship and even learning the steps to a few science-themed dances!