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Marnie Gelbart
 on February 26, 2020

Introducing the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd)

We want to introduce you to pgEd, an organization with lots of resources related to genetics and how to ensure safety and equity as these technologies develop further.

pgEd image of DNA strand of words

We want to introduce you to an organization with lots of resources related to genetics and how we might think about the advancing technologies. Marnie Gelbart is the Director of Programs at pgEd. We asked her to tell us about the organization, what they do, and particularly why they have engaged communities of faith (like us!) to talk about genetic technologies. Below her introduction, we have linked some of their great resources for your reference.

Genetic technologies are progressing at a feverish pace, bringing great promise to treat disease, nourish a growing population, and combat vector-borne disease. Increasingly, people are encountering genetics in their daily lives—when seeking medical care or fertility treatment, when learning about their ancestry, during interactions with law enforcement or the criminal justice system, and even during a trip to the voting booth or local store. Engaging the public in conversations is essential to help ensure a safe and equitable path forward as genetic technologies enter our world. When equipped with knowledge, people are better prepared to speak up, ask questions, make informed decisions for themselves and their families, and come together to act in the best interest of their communities and society as a whole.

Who we are and what we do

Launched in 2006, pgEd is a diverse and dedicated team of scientists, social scientists, and educators who engage people from many walks of life in discussions about advances in genetics—the potential benefits as well as the ethical and social implications. Our goal is to achieve comprehensive awareness, so that all people—regardless of socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, cultural, or educational background—are aware and their voices are heard in the dialogue that shapes the path forward.

From our base in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, we create curricula on topics including precision medicine, genome editing/CRISPR, the history of the American eugenics movement, and the use of DNA in law enforcement. Currently in use in biology, social studies, and humanities classrooms across the country (from middle schools through colleges and universities), these lesson plans are designed to be accessible to audiences without a scientific background and are available for free online. We also provide informational briefings on Capitol Hill for policymakers who are considering whether and how to regulate new technologies, and we advise creators of television and film who are bringing the latest breakthroughs and ethical dilemmas into their storylines. As we work to bring these conversations outside of the halls of research labs and into the public sphere, we have found no substitute for in-person interactions. Therefore, we strive to meet people where they are—in classrooms and conference rooms, libraries and museums, places of worship, and places of public discourse.

scientist in lab with micropipetter

Why engage communities of faith?

Communities of faith, which are a trusted space for reflection and dialogue, are important partners in our work, as people grapple with the opportunities and concerns that emerging technologies bring. As people become engaged with these ideas, our new faith partners have led the way by sharing information through conduits that had previously not been on our radar, and organizing events to bring more voices into the conversation. It was through a symposium that we co-organized with Azusa Pacific University that we met Jim Stump and Kathryn Applegate of BioLogos. We are delighted to now be introduced to the BioLogos community and we invite you to get in touch to share your feedback and ideas!

Here are some resources to get you started at the pgEd website:

Ethical questions related to genetic sequencing

What is consumer genetics?

Genetics and reproduction

Genetic Modification, Genome Editing, and CRISPR

How do personal genetics and athletics intersect?

What is eugenics?

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About the author

Marnie Gelbart

Marnie Gelbart

Marnie Gelbart is the Director of Programs at pgEd and, since 2011, has been leading initiatives for increasing awareness and conversation about genetic technologies. In this role, she presents at workshops for teachers and community groups, contributes to pgEd’s online curricula, partners with communities of faith, advises writers and producers of television and film, and organizes Congressional briefings. As PI of a five-year Science Education Partnership Award funded by the National Institutes of Health, Marnie’s recent travels have taken her to Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. She is currently a member of the Public Education and Awareness Committee for the American Society of Hu­man Genetics and has held advisory roles for the Genetics Society of America, the National Human Genome Research In­stitute, and the Smithsonian. Prior to joining pgEd, Marnie was a post-doctoral fellow at Brigham & Women’s Hospital investigating the role of chromosome organization in gene regulation.