Centre for Genomic & Experimental Medicine
Centre for Genomic & Experimental Medicine

Big ideas day - Genome testing: a choice?

September 2016: This workshop for 15-16 year olds, in conjunction with National Museums of Scotland, posed the tricky question ‘Should we sequence everyone’s genome at birth’?


The National Museums of Scotland Big Ideas Day on 15th September was run in collaboration with Professor David Porteous, Head of the Medical Genetics Section in the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, offering practical experience in a hands-on environment, provided by world-class genetics researchers.

The Big Ideas Day - Genome Testing: A Choice? workshop was aimed at secondary school students, with the key question for discussion and debate; ‘Should we sequence everyone’s genome at birth’? When asked at the start of the workshop if they would have their genome sequenced, a clear majority of the 15-16 year-old school children voted ‘yes’.

David then summarised the history of human genome sequencing, showed a ‘this is how we do it’ video taken in the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility (WTCRF) Genetics Core labs, and explained how the cost and time taken to sequence the human genome has plummeted in recent years. He pointed out that genetic testing for several severe disorders is already conducted routinely in the NHS at birth, using a pin-prick blood sample from the heel of newborns. He ended by stating ‘We can do it, but should we do it?’

Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Professor of Medical and Family Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, picked up that question and outlined some of the pros and cons. Throughout the day the pupils were encouraged to discuss and express their own views on the issues at hand, and after further debate, a reduced majority remained in favour of having their genome sequenced. The main motivations given were curiosity, to find out about their ancestry, and for health reasons.

Under the same theme, a Science Saturdays event, Genetic Secrets, open to the public of all ages, will take place at the Museum on 15th October. David will chair the event, CGEM’s Director, Professor Tim Aitman will be one of the speakers and the IGMM, WTCRF Genetics Core, Edinburgh Genomics and Generation Scotland will showcase their work in a parallel Marketplace Event.

This event was supported by the Wellcome Trust.


Related Links:

Sarah Cunningham-Burley

Science Saturdays


WTCRF Genetics Core

Edinburgh Genomics

Generation Scotland