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Recap of "DNA Demystified" Virtual Chat


Summary of discussion Q&A from virtual chat 'DNA Demystified"

We had a great discussion of several topics, with probing questions and lively discussion. Below is a summary of a select few. For the full chat, see the archive at

Query: What DNA and genetics basics should Cooperative Extension professionals understand?

Summary:   At least the basics up to first year college.  We should know about basic structure and function of DNA, and how it is being applied in modern society- in Agriculture,  in Medicine, and others. 

Query: In general, how can Cooperative Extension professionals improve their ability to communicate complex science concepts?

Summary:  Best practice: Keep it (technically) simple, keep it relevant and “real-worldly”

Query: What are some of the privacy and ethical issues we should be aware of?

Summary: Everyone has a unique DNA sequence, although 99.9% of it is identical in everyone. We should jealously guard that remaining 0.1% that makes us unique just as stringently as we guard or bank account passwords or social security number.

Query: Research indicates the American public is divided over the use of these technologies in the food system. What do we need to know about the use of genetic technologies in the food system?

Summary: Comforting to know, all products of genetic engineering are safety tested prior to release to the public, and since GE foods were first introduced in the mid 1990s, there’s not a single documented case of harm to any consumer.

We CE professionals need to help people understand science more broadly, as technology is daunting to many. If they don’t understand basic science literacy, they will not appreciate the nuances they need to make informed decisions, or to feel comfortable with a given technology. Especially with opponents offering simplistic, scary criticisms. 

Query: Increasingly, social media is a forum where difficult discussions occur. What strategies can Cooperative Extension professionals employ to effectively communicate science information on these platforms?

Summary: Social media is crucial these days, in spite of its limitations. We CE professionals must learn to manage those hazards to make best use of the benefits offered.

Query: What trends do you think are important?

Summary: First, a general trend is for the public to be more aware of and question technology- including technology in agriculture, medicine and others. 

Second, a specific trend in agriculture and food production is the attention shift away from “GMOs” (No one sees them as unsafe anymore)  to the diverse applications of genome editing, especially CRISPR-Cas9.  It seems to have caught the public imagination, generating a mix of curiosity and concern.

DNA Demystified CoverResources

In ‘DNA Demystified’ I provide a range of online sources in each chapter’s Endnotes. I  hope to satisfy both novice and more advanced readers, by including sources for beginners (such as links to New York Times or other mainstream media coverage) as well as direct links to the scientific literature.  Online resources include excellent DNA learning pages from, for example, the Khan Academy for high school level readers (, to National Institutes of Health DNA learning pages ( for more advanced readers.

Chat Archive:

 Link to DNA Demystified book:


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  • DNA Demystified Cover

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This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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