Genetics: from Frankenstein to the future

Genetics: from Frankenstein to the future

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Frankenstein“Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” is a National Institutes of Health traveling exhibit that explores not only the original novel but its many adaptations and cultural uses. The exhibit is on display at the second floor south entrance of University Capitol Centre through Nov. 2.

The field of genetics research received a boost at the University of Iowa when the provost announced in 2010 the hiring of a cluster of new faculty across campus to pursue genetics research.

Jeff Murray, professor of neonatology and genetics in the UI Carver College of Medicine, directs the genetics cluster hire. He and Richard Smith, professor of otolaryngology, are working to be inclusive in university-wide genetic initiatives, reaching out to other groups on campus to ask how geneticists might engage the larger campus and community in the challenging ethical, social, and scientific issues raised by genetics research.

The exhibit “Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” is on display at the second floor south entrance of University Capitol Centre through Nov. 2.

A public talk echoing the exhibit’s themes, “Genetics in Literature, Life, and the Laboratory,” will be given by Vanderbilt University professors Ellen Wright Clayton and Jay Clayton 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A.

"The era of personalized genomic medicine is fast approaching,” Smith says. “Clinicians will provide health care tailored to each person’s genome to inform choices about medications, disease and disease prevention, and surgical risks.”

Smith, director of the UI Institute of Human Genetics (IHG), says that as tests are developed to identify individuals’ susceptibilities to common diseases, medical care is changing toward a focus on prevention. Even with such tests, however, some persons with genetic risk factors for a given disease will never develop that disease, while others, who lack any risk factors, will develop it for other reasons.

“These limitations and the ethical issues associated with personal genomic medicine make it important for scientists and humanities scholars to work closely together to explore and understand the implications of this new direction in medical care," Smith says.

This fall, conversations between IHG, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics, and Hardin Library for the Health Sciences are resulting in campus events that welcome the public to reflect on the responsibilities of science and scientists to the broader culture. An exhibit and a public talk will raise questions about choices that affect researchers in science, social sciences, and the humanities, funding agencies, artists, writers, filmmakers, communities, students, families, and individuals.

“Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” is a National Institutes of Health (NIH) traveling exhibit that explores not only the original novel but its many adaptations and cultural uses. Published in 1818 by Mary Shelley when she was still in her teens, Frankenstein has captivated people ever since, exposing hidden, sometimes barely conscious fears of science and technology. The exhibit considers how Shelley's unfortunate creature frequently provides a framework for discussions of contemporary biomedical advances such as cloning, which challenge our traditional understanding of what it means to be human. It is on display at the second floor south entrance of University Capitol Centre (UCC) through Nov. 2.

A public talk will echo the exhibit’s themes. “Genetics in Literature, Life, and the Laboratory,” will be the subject of a talk by Ellen Wright Clayton and Jay Clayton, Vanderbilt University professors who have worked together on NIH projects. The talk takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A.

Ellen Wright Clayton is a noted leader in the field of law and genetics and a scholar who focuses on ethical and social issues raised by genetics as they appear in literature and films. The professors will offer a model for richly interdisciplinary collaboration that joins medicine and law with studies of literature, ethics, the arts, and popular culture. Jay Clayton has lectured on genetics and literature at the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH, the English Institute, the Society for Literature and Science, and medical schools around the country.

A panel discussion will follow their initial remarks.

In addition to the genetics cluster, the events are being co-sponsored by the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Medicine, and Public Health, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics, Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Colloquium of International Programs, Center for Teaching, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Departments of Biology;Biostatistics; Epidemiology; English; Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies; and History, the Public Policy Center, and the Iowa City Public Library.

For more information, contact Neda Barrett at neda-barrett@uiowa.edu, or 319-335-4034.

Contacts

Jennifer New, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 319-335-4034
Neda Barrett, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 319-335-4034

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