How National DNA Day Celebrates the Secrets of Our Past

DNA
12 April 2024
by Ancestry® Team

It’s no secret that the scientific method can be a slow and methodical process, but did you know that early DNA research defied those odds? Scientists discovered the basic structure of DNA in 1953—and just 50 years later, they had sequenced the human genome. 

National DNA Day celebrates this enormous accomplishment and honors the scientists who worked together to achieve this feat. It also commemorates Watson’s and Crick’s original double-helix discovery, which made the genome project possible. The date of the holiday, April 25th, is a nod to the duo’s original research publication date.

About DNA Day

DNA Day became official in 2003, but its origins date back more than 100 years. It all started in the 1800s when scientists began searching for the building blocks of life. 

Over a roughly 100-year period, several people contributed to the discovery and understanding of DNA, including Johann Friedrich Miescher, Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, Maclyn McCarty, Maurice Wilkins, James Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, and numerous others. Their insight helped identify the DNA molecule, understand that genes pass on genetic information, and so much more.

In the 1970s, scientists began the long and arduous task of sequencing, or reading, the order of the 3.2 billion nucleotide pairs in human DNA. Thus began the Human Genome Project—a collaborative effort by researchers from 20 institutions around the world. Over the course of 13 years, they managed to sequence 92% of the human genome.

DNA Day is an opportunity for the public to learn about the latest genomic developments,  discover how the research impacts human life, and learn other interesting facts about DNA. By encouraging and supporting educational celebrations, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hope to inspire innovation among students, educators, and clinicians and reinforce the importance of federally funded research.

DNA Day History

The Human Genome Project was one of the most important global scientific achievements in history. The official end date was April 14, 2003, but Francis S. Collins, the director of the NHGRI and one of the project leaders, had been working behind the scenes for months. He encouraged Congress to support the creation of DNA Day and Human Genome Month.

Lawmakers agreed—the Senate published a resolution establishing both celebrations in February 2003, and the House followed suit in March 2003. Collins also wrote to then-president George W. Bush in March 2003, asking him to issue an official proclamation. 

The United States celebrated the first DNA Day on April 25, 2003. Although the Congressional resolutions only applied to 2003, the NHGRI has kept the holiday alive every year since. The official date is April 25, but the organization encourages you to celebrate any time in February, March, or April. If you want to recognize the cross-cultural collaboration in the Human Genome Project, you can also recognize International DNA Day.

Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953, Wikimedia Commons

How to Observe National DNA Day

DNA Day is the perfect opportunity to dive into the latest developments in genomic research. You can host an event alone or in partnership with organizations, including schools, libraries, community groups, student groups, and research institutions. The NHGRI encourages you to register your DNA Day event—that way, it will appear on the National DNA Day Network Map.

As you plan for DNA Day, use these event and activity ideas for inspiration on how to learn more:

  • Topical seminars: Host an educational seminar on a specific genetics topic. Tailor the topic to the interests or needs of the organization. For example, a genealogy group might explore the science of DNA analysis or explore how people have used DNA test results.
  • Get hands-on: Engage younger learners in the science of DNA and genetics with an interactive workshop. Consider exploring DNA Day activities, such as building DNA models or extracting DNA from strawberries.
  • In-class lectures: If you’re a teacher, celebrate with topical lectures or fun DNA Day facts. To get your students excited about genomic research, consider discussing how new developments may impact fields such as cancer treatment, vaccine development, or gene therapy.
  • Virtual lectures: Consider attending a lecture attended by a researcher, professor, or other genetics professional. You’ll build interest in the field and get a chance to ask questions.
  • Science Cafés: Make genomics more accessible to the general public by hosting a Science Café at a local pub, restaurant, or coffee shop. Bring in a scientist to lead a discussion about new research, the basics of DNA research, genetic genealogy, or another relevant topic.

Explore Your Genetics With AncestryDNA®

You don’t need an official event to celebrate DNA Day; if you’re curious about your ethnicity and genetic makeup, a DNA test is a fast and effective way to learn more. The most efficient option is an autosomal DNA test, which traces your heritage on both sides of your family. AncestryDNA® tests use this technology to provide:

With this information, you can find new relatives, get ideas for heritage travel, and find new avenues for family history research. The AncestryDNA test is quick and easy—all you need to do is mail a saliva sample using the included kit. To start diving into your DNA, order and register an AncestryDNA kit today.

Sources

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  • Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DNA_methylation.jpg
  • Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Template_from_Crick_and_Watson%E2%80%99s_DNA_molecular_model,_1953._(9660573227).jpg
  • Image 3: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1s_mRTv_LCSRRsVZrZH7AzPNukeuOXUK2nJQEwy79bJ0/edit#gid=0
    Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nsarchives/18017052058/