My kids isolated the hemochromatosis genes.

Narcissism runs strong in most kids, so to teach them science, it helps to make it all about them. On a recent trip to The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, kids of all ages were excited to make a robot read their names, design their own roller coasters, create sound circles with their fingers, and see infrared shadow images of themselves. Robot blocks But off in the Health and Biotech Gallery an interactive exhibit that skillfully simplified gene sequencing gathered dust like old books. The kids were not interested; they much preferred scraping their own cheek cells into petri dishes so they could watch them grow over time on line with their Tech Tags. The Tech gene exhibit But when I realized that the genetic example used in the human gene sequencing section was the gene for hemochromatosis, a recessive condition causing iron overload in the blood, I recognized a potential hook for the kids in our family group. Hemochromatosis was a great choice for the exhibit because this mutation of the HFE gene has been called the most common genetic disorder in the western world, affecting people of European ancestry, possibly as many as 1 in 64 people in Ireland and 1.5 million Americans. An estimated 32 million Americans are silent carriers. Yet, few people even know about it. But even better to lure these kids:  our family carries this genetic condition, and all of the kids with us were blood relatives. “Look kids, they have an exhibit on our family!” Curiosity sparked: how can cousins can have some of the same genes? What is hemochromatosis? How can they tell if you carry the gene? What does “recessive” mean? Once they were engaged, a few of them enjoyed the exhibit, which tasked them with a simplified, logical approach to isolating the problematic gene sequence. They saw first-hand how science is changing the medical future for each one of them, because this easily-treated condition can be deadly if you don’t know you have it. They walked away with a better understanding of genetic science than most adults can claim and some important information about themselves.

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