Dolan DNA Learning Center Grant Will Connect Research, Education and Technology

Computers have already been compared to the human brain, but now the Dolan DNA Learning Center’s BioMedia Group will actually create technology based on its structure. Funded by a four-year, $1 million grant from the Dana Foundation, this project will integrate technology and modern neurological research to create Genes to Cognition (G2C) Online: A Network-Driven Internet Site on Modern Brain Research, an educational tool inspired by the human brain.

According to Dolan DNA Learning Center Executive Director David Micklos, “G2C Online can potentially demonstrate the benefits of developing Internet education materials in tandem with major research efforts, rather than as a secondary activity. We will capitalize on the Internet’s capacity to juxtapose different media, providing options to engage people with different interests and learning styles.”

G2C Online will use contemporary brain research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (United Kingdom), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Helicon Therapeutics and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives – as it becomes available – to provide both the content and the structure for this project.

"Science education and public outreach typically begin well after a ‘scientific revolution’ has settled down into what Thomas Kuhn called ‘normal science’ – resulting in a set of facts that can be conveniently categorized and presented as unchallenged dogma,” Micklos explained. “Rather than presenting science as a completed endeavor, with nothing important left to discover, we want to involve site users in this revolutionary period of neuroscience research. We want them to be online when new insights into human memory and new treatments for cognitive disorders appear on the horizon.”

Recent research has shown that brain function relies on exactly the same types of “small world” networks that the premise to Six Degrees of Separation is based on: each of the several hundred molecules involved in processing a nervous signal is, on average, separated by less than four connections from any other molecule. As a result, G2C Online will be an Internet site resembling the network organization of neurons and signaling molecules of the brain. This nonlinear, dynamic format will provide high school and college students; life sciences, biology and psychology teachers; and healthcare-oriented audiences the opportunity to explore the world of current brain research by choosing paths and delving deeper according to their own personal needs, interests and abilities.

G2C Online will encompass video interviews with researchers who will provide insight into the process of science and individuals and families who will portray the human costs of mental illness. Animations will describe experiments and multi-step processes, while 3-D animations will bring life to unseen molecular events. Users will also have access to a variety of imaging data such as brain scans, electroencephalograms, brain slices and micrographs. Virtual experiments will provide open-ended experiences that allow students to see the results of their own manipulation of variables. A database engine will allow site users to generate a view of the network from any point, chart a course through the network, and store a course for analysis or modification.

About Dana Foundation
The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropic organization with particular interests in neuroscience, immunology, and arts education. For more information, visit www.dana.org.

About the Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC)
The Dolan DNA Learning Center – an operating arm of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory – prepares students and families to thrive in the gene age by providing 5th through 12th graders with hands-on laboratory experiences and offering them educational opportunities that are unavailable in their own schools. Each year, more than 30,000 students and teachers from Long Island, all five boroughs of New York City, and around the country benefit from the labs, lectures, field trips and workshops provided by the Center's teaching staff. The Biomedia Group was formed in 1997 to take advantage of the DNALC’s resident expertise in genetics education. The group consists of a unique mix of scientists, science communicators, writers, designers, and computer programmers who combine their skills to create multimedia educational resources for the Internet. The DNALC’s Internet portal, Gene Almanac (www.genealmanac.org), and family of content sites (DNA from the Beginning; DNA Interactive; Genetic Origins; Inside Cancer; Your Genes, Your Health and others) received 4.9 million visitors in 2003. For more information, visit www.dnalc.org.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, non-profit basic research institution. Under the leadership of Dr. Bruce Stillman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society (London), more than 330 scientists at the Laboratory conduct groundbreaking research in cancer, neurobiology, plant genetics, and bioinformatics. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.