Wits students create app to take genetics to the masses
The idea is to spread the word that it's not just about cloning and X-men, and that genetics isn't outlandish
Young science students from Wits University have developed an app that teaches schoolchildren and any layperson the 101 of genetics so that concepts like inheritance, DNA, and disease susceptibility can be easily understood.
Launched at the African Society of Human Genetics meeting in Kigali in late 2018, the app is designed as a “beginner’s guide” library containing simple explanations of genetic concepts.
Their motivation to develop the app came from witnessing the intrigue of the pupils they meet in their outreach programme and their thirst for more knowledge on a topic often considered outlandish.
“Genetics is something that has a direct implication on our lives,” says Mahtaab Hayat, one of the students doing outreach. “Often it is seen as a branch of science that is outlandish, with people often asking: ‘So, you can make things like the X-Men?’ or: ‘Can you make a clone of me?’”
In their outreach work for the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Human Genetics Community Outreach Programme (SCOP) they provide an overview of DNA, inheritance and other genetics concepts.
“We would demonstrate a DNA extraction from saliva and talk the learners through examples of inheritance,” says Jorge da Rocha, who is also on the outreach team. “The learners were intrigued. They asked many questions and so we thought it would be a great interactive way for schoolchildren to learn – in their own time and in an easily accessible way.”
The students taught themselves coding and developed the app for Android. An iOS version is coming soon, and there are also plans to “to get the app translated into other South African languages”, says Da Rocha.
They hope the impact on the pupils will be big, but also that it reaches others.
Hayat explains: “As for the general public, understanding the implications of the inheritance of traits and disorders can impact the understanding of why diseases occur and help inform decision making that involves genetics.” Find the SCOP Genetics app at https://www.afshg.org/