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DNA: The Great Book Of Life, From Mendel To Genomics

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Till 18 June, Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome

Mendel, a misunderstood genius born “too soon” and in the wrong place, was to become the posthumous father of genetics, a science that has changed our way of understanding nature forever. Gregor Mendel is one of the leading figures in an exhibition that explores what is essentially a microscopic and invisible world in an effort to discover the laws of heredity, the stories of great scientists such as Watson and Crick who enabled us to understand the structure and function of DNA, the new frontiers of genomics, the discipline’s practical applications and the way they influence and are increasingly going to influence our lives and our environment, personalised gene therapy, artificial life, the use of DNA to weed out the culprit in a crime, the past, the present and the future, and much, much more.

The first part of the exhibition explores the historical aspect, mapping out the crucial stages in this scientific adventure and illustrating both the discoveries and the life and times of the scientists involved: Mendel and the laws governing character heredity, Morgan and fruit flies – crucial for understanding what genes and chromosomes are – and the racist “distortions” of eugenetics, right up to the work of  Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin on the double helix structure of DNA.

The second part of the exhibition takes a look at the present and future, illustrating the themes of cloning, personalised medicine, genetic engineering and artificial biology, with a special focus on forensic genetics and on the study of extinct species’ DNA.

The exhibition showcases a spellbinding selection of different artefacts and styles. The concise explanatory narrative accompanying visitors throughout the exhibition’s seven sections alternates with the display of exciting original exhibits on show to the general public for the very first time here in Italy. They include the parts of the original model used by Watson and Crick to describe DNA’s double helix structure; the real sheep Dolly, the first animal ever to be obtained by cloning; 19th century documents and artefacts belonging to Mendel; historical instruments associated with the disturbing history of eugenetics; and an original fossilised Neanderthal skull from which an attempt is currently being made to extract the DNA. This selection of exhibits from all over the world is accompanied by numeours interactive exhibits specially designed for the exhibition, by video material on display here for the very first time and by iconographic apparatus and spectacular reconstructions in the context of a fully immersive and interactive museum layout.

“The exhibition aims to provide an educational tool of excellence to help children and teenagers address all of the issues relating to genetics and genomics in a way that is detailed yet easy to follow, that is simple but not superficial, and to provide them with all the tools that they need to become aware of the impact that the discoveries in this field are bound to have on the society of the future.”