Maybe you spat in the tube and wondered: “Why is there DNA in my spit in the first place?”
Or you got your reports and thought: “What exactly makes my DNA different from someone else’s?”
As scientists at 23andMe, we hear all the time from people who have questions about the bedrock concepts that make personal genetic testing possible.
That’s why we’ve launched a new interactive learning website called Interactive DNA Discovery. I worked with Thao Do, Ph.D., 23andMe’s Education and Academia Marketing Manager, and Chelsea Robertson, Ph.D., one of our product scientists, to develop the site.
“As a scientist, I saw the magnificent beauty of the world that lies inside of all of us and I wanted to share that wonder with everyone,” Thao said.
To do that, our team decided to create a portal that would enable people to learn about genetics quickly and in a way that’s interactive and fun.
“Learning should be entertaining. It should feel like you’re playing a game,” she said.
Visitors to the Interactive DNA Discovery page will encounter sixteen mini-lessons on everything from where DNA is located in the body, to the meaning of the word "genome" and technologies used to study it.
The lessons are designed so that you can either master each concept in order, or hop around and explore topics that catch your eye. Chelsea called that a "choose-your-own-adventure" structure.
"We want to allow people to start wherever they feel comfortable and move in nonlinear ways through the things that are most interesting to them," she explained.
Each lesson also has an animation or illustration as well as a knowledge checkpoint question that you can (optionally!) quiz yourself on. Through our experiences working at 23andMe we've learned that people consume information in all kinds of ways. Thao, Chelsea, and I wanted the Interactive DNA Discovery page to work for everyone, no matter their learning style, whether they're a visual learner or prefer reading, whether their last biology class was five years ago, forty years ago, or never. We even envision the Interactive DNA Discovery page being a resource for people who are in biology class learning about genetics right now.
"It's something that I wish I had when I was learning," Thao told me. "The resources I had were just textbooks and slides. For me, I wish I had something where I could just play around with it."
Genetics is increasingly making the leap out of the classroom and the laboratory and into our everyday lives. Questions that were theoretical in the past now have direct relevance for our health decisions and policies. And scientists continue to uncover new complexities in our genetic machinery. We want this molecular universe whirring along inside each of us to be open for everyone to explore.
Besides creating a new lens into that universe, the concepts in the Interactive DNA Discovery page provide a solid base of knowledge to jump off of, whether your next step is diving deeper into your 23andMe reports, or exploring more about genetics. Or maybe you're totally satisfied with having your mind blown by the fact that you have six feet of DNA coiled up inside almost every one of your cells. Whatever you choose, we're excited to share our passion for genetics with you.