But National DNA Day is a good opportunity to look at how the world of genetic science has changed our day-to-day lives.
The National Human Genome Research Institute calls National DNA Day “a unique day when students, teachers, and the public can learn more about genetics and genomics.”
Held annually on April 25, National DNA Day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA's double helix in 1953. In a statement to mark the designation of National DNA Day in March 2003, the United States Congress issued a resolution stating that it recognizes the sequencing of the human genome “as one of the most significant scientific accomplishments of the past one hundred years.”
The first National DNA Day was held on April 25th, 2003, the 50th anniversary of the publication of the description of the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in Nature magazine by James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick, which the US Congress stated “is considered by many scientists to be one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.”
How Do People Celebrate National DNA Day?
With the resolution marking the first National DNA Day, Congress called on schools, museums, cultural organizations and the like to recognize the day with events held to educate people about human genomics.
One example of such activities is the national essay contest held by the American Society of Human Genetics, which awards prizes to the best essays by high school students from around the world who are asked “to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in genetics.”
At academic institutions around the country official events will be held, including a lecture at California State University Fullerton titled “Who, What, Why, Where & How: DNA Testing for Family History Research Organization.”
Elsewhere, educators and parents are encouraged to hold their own educational events and on the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) website you can find ideas for events, as well as a form where you can register a DNA Day event and a DNA Day Starter Kit you can download from the site.
Last year, the NHGRI celebrated the 15th anniversary of National DNA Day with the 15 for 15 Celebration, which highlighted 15 different ways that genomics has and will continue to affect our world.
How Can You Learn About Your Own Heritage on National DNA Day?
One of the uses of genomics that the NHGRI celebrated was direct to consumer genomic testing, the home DNA test kits used for ethnicity mapping, genealogy research, and health screening. These home kits have become something of a phenomenon, bringing the science of genomic technology to the front porch of countless everyday people for about the price of dinner and a movie for 2.
You can use a home DNA test from companies like My Heritage or Ancestry.com to check your own DNA on National DNA Day. All you have to do is rub a cotton swab on your cheek, send it in, and get exciting answers about your ethnic makeup and your ancestors within weeks.
You can not only get an estimation of where your ancestors came from, but if someone else from your family is in the company's database, you can be informed of long-lost relatives as well. MyHeritage and Ancestry are great for this because of their large databases, however there are many other companies on the market that provide this service as well. Some specialize in giving you answers about the health risks that someone with your DNA profile should be concerned about, while others focus on what you should and shouldn't be eating given your genetic makeup. For more in-depth information on what these kits have to offer, see our complete comparison of the best home DNA tests.
Who Will Probably Be Celebrating DNA Day
Celebrating might not be the right word, but if there’s any organization that can attest to the effect that DNA science can have on individual lives, it’s the Innocence Project.
The non-profit legal organization works to exonerate people wrongfully convicted of crimes, through the use of DNA testing. According to the organization, since the first DNA-based exoneration in 1989 there have been 364 people who were exonerated due to DNA testing. This includes 20 people who were on Death Row at the time of their exoneration. Furthermore, the Innocence Project asserts that there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued until DNA evidence showed they were wrongfully accused.
Who Won’t Be Celebrating DNA Day
By no means is DNA solely a way out for the wrongfully accused. It has also become an effective and fascinating tool in the solving of crime, including some of the most infamous cold cases that have bedeviled investors for decades.
Whether you call him the “Visalia Ransacker,” the “EAR/ONS” (East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker), or “The Golden State Killer,” Joseph James DeAngelo is a person who should have been put behind bars—or underneath a prison—decades ago. DeAngelo is suspected of being responsible for at least 13 murders and 50 rapes across the state of California between 1974 and 1986. Decades of leads, tips, and hunches, had all gone cold, chased down by detectives until they could be ruled out and passed into the ether of one of America’s most important cold cases.
That is, until DNA testing entered the equation. In late 2017, Costa County (CA) investigator Paul Holes uploaded a DNA sample from one of the Golden State Killer’s murder scenes to the personal genomics website GEDmatch, where it was a partial match for a number of samples in the site’s database. Investigators then spent the next few months eliminating ancestors and partial matches (either they were born too long ago, weren’t male, and so on) until they honed in on DeAngelo as a likely suspect.
Detectives started to stake out DeAngelo, and were finally able to get a DNA sample from a garbage can outside his house, and match it to the one from the murder scene.
The next day, detectives knocked on DeAngelo’s door and brought him out into the light—and into the hands of law enforcement—once and for all.
The next day, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert gave a press conference to announce that they had arrested a prime suspect in the Golden State Killer case, through the use of DNA.
The day’s date? April 25th, 2018, National DNA Day.
Since then, interest and participation in DNA science have only increased. Hopefully, in 2020 National DNA Day will continue to bring more good news, and help more people learn about the everyday benefits of genomic science.