Visitors to “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” an exhibition about genomic science at Rochester Museum and Science Center, 657 East Ave., can explore the Genome Discovery Center through April 29.
The exhibit was conceived to celebrate the anniversaries of two landmark discoveries: the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s completion and the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix. “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” examines the complexities of the genome — the complete set of genetic material in each living organism.
Using specimens from the museum’s collections that showcase this area’s biodiversity, the Genome Discovery Center uncovers stories about early life forms, species facing extinction and attempts to recreate a lost species. This exhibit helps visitors discover how the museum’s 1.2 million collection items continue to help scientists gain new insights.
Four live geckos, hands-on experiments and activities such as DNA extraction bring genomic science to life. Visitors can see an early DNA sequencer used in Rochester to study the genetics of endangered iguana species.
Stories from the Genome Discovery Center include “Evidence Written in a Shell,” “The Disappearing Spruce Grouse,” “Back from the Dead” and “Creating Designer Pets.”
New York’s freshwater mollusks first entered the state 18,000 years ago as the continental glaciers retreated. Worldwide fossil evidence indicates the mollusk species is 400-500 million years old. “Evidence Written in a Shell” explores findings from the past 100 years as scientists study freshwater mollusks found in area lakes, rivers and streams, often using shells from RMSC’s collections. Some species have 13,000 more genes than humans.
The spruce grouse, an historic resident of Adirondack Park, is nearing extinction. Its genetic diversity is extremely low, threatening its survival. “The Disappearing Spruce Grouse” showcases DNA sequencing done in 2011 — including two 19th-century specimens from RMSC’s collection — that led scientists to a surprising discovery: the bird’s genetic diversity only started decreasing significantly in 1975.
The passenger pigeon was the world’s most populous bird species before the 1850s, with more than 3 billion in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada. Overhunting and habitat destruction took their toll, and the last individual bird died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. In “Back from the Dead,” science may be on the verge of reversing the species’ extinction using DNA sequencing, cloning and genetic engineering. RMSC contributed genetic material from specimens in its collections to this project.
The family favorites in RMSC’s Genome Discovery Center are its four leopard geckos. With noticeably different colors, patterns and activity level, the geckos demonstrate how vastly different appearance and behavior can be within a single species. Although the genetic traits of a living thing are determined by its parents, “Creating Designer Pets” helps visitors understand how breeders use those traits to create designer pets.
“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” and related programming are free with regular museum admission — $15 for adults, $14 seniors and college students, $13 for ages 3-18 and free for ages 2 and younger and RMSC members. Call (585) 697-1942 for group reservations and rates.
The exhibit was created by the Smithsonian Institution and National Institutes of Health.