National Dna Day Essay Contest Rules

Past DNA Day Essays Reveal Student Misconceptions About Genetics

By ErinC under genetics 101

For many people, the first and last place they will ever study genetics is high school biology class. So it is crucial that these classes prepare people to deal with the barrage of genetic advancements that are increasingly impacting everyday life. Unfortunately, many high school biology courses are not doing such a good job of communicating the fundamentals of genetics, according to an analysis by researchers from the American Society for Human Genetics (ASHG). For three years now the ASHG, along with several partners, has sponsored the Annual National DNA Day Essay Contest. The contest challenges high school students to examine, question, and reflect on the important concepts of genetics. Shortly before DNA Day 2008, researchers used a selection of these essays from previous years to see where students might be going wrong. Their results were published in the journal Genetics. Several themes emerged from the authors’ analysis. Most striking were the students’ lack of understanding of the limits to genetic engineering and their belief that single genes always determine traits and diseases. The researchers attributed students’ misconceptions to “genohype” in media coverage of scientific discoveries, science curriculum standards that lack depth, and even the undergraduate biology education teachers receive. Students often equated the identification of a disease-associated gene with “curing” a disease through gene replacement. A disturbing number of students thought genetic engineering could be used to “improve” and “design” their offspring, with the goal of having a “perfect” child. Some students even suggested that genetic engineering would allow scientists to put a gene from one species into another in order to get a specific trait. For example: “We could eliminate all the premature deaths of people dying around the world from thirst if we genetically modified people to inherit some of the characteristics of the camel, allowing them to go for months at a time without drinking water.” The rules of the DNA Day Essay contest require teachers to submit the top three essays for each question from their students. The fact that so many essays were from students with serious misunderstandings suggested to the ASHG researchers that the teachers themselves may not be receiving very good undergraduate training in genetics, and that their unchallenged misconceptions are being passed on. Like many before them, the authors of the ASHG study suggest that partnerships between scientists and educators will be valuable in improving genetics education. They propose shifting instruction from the simple Mendelian view of inheritance to a more nuanced perspective that takes into account multiple genetic and non-genetic contributions to traits and diseases, with a focus on concepts over content. But, they concede, this type of change is impeded by the need for districts and states to demonstrate content knowledge on standardized tests. “Until significant research is performed by scientists and their educator colleagues that demonstrates which methods adequately teach both content and concepts, schools systems are unlikely to change their methods,” the authors write.
Some resources for genetics education:

Tags: ASHG, DNA Day, education, high school


Does the 750 word count include images and their descriptions?

Are citations included in the word count?
In-text citations are included in the word count, but the reference list is not included.

Are headings/titles included in the word count?

Should everything be on one page or should references have a separate page?
The reference list will be submitted separately in the “references” section of the submission site. Everything will be included on one page once the essay is submitted.

Is there a standard font or margin size preferred?
No. Once the essay is copied and pasted into the submission site, it will be formatted to fit our standard margins and fonts.


Can I (a student) submit my essay myself?
Only teachers, administrators, or parents who teach their home-schooled child can submit an essay. While we encourage your current science teacher to submit your essay for you, your English teacher, another science teacher, or any other teacher who helped you can submit your essay.

What does it mean that only teachers can submit essays?
This means students cannot submit their essay themselves and must ask a teacher to do it for them. This is to encourage students to work with their teacher when they write their essay. Please keep in mind, though, that teachers of winners will receive a genetics materials grant and will be featured with the winning students in our announcements.

How do I submit my essay if a teacher cannot do it for me?
Try to find any other teacher who can submit for you. If this isn’t an option, please email us at

Can my guidance counselor submit my essay for me?

Can I submit for my student who is currently studying abroad?
The student must be studying at the same school as the teacher who submits their essay.

Can I change information after I have submitted?
No, please make sure all information is correct before submitting because it will be final.

How does the teacher vouch for the originality of the student’s work?
Your submission represents your authentication that the essays are the original work of your students.

How do I submit more essays?
Use the submission link in the confirmation email.

I submitted late. Will my essay still be judged?
All late submissions will not be judged.

Why isn’t the submission site working?
It may be your browser. Try Firefox or Chrome.
Check your email address. Your may have entered it incorrectly.
Check your submitted information. You may not have filled in all the information required.  

Where’s the confirmation email?
It may take some time for the email to get to you. If you haven’t received it by the end of the day, either check your junk mailbox or double check that the email address you provided is correct. If neither of those options work, email


Where do I find the link to volunteer as a judge?
The link was sent in the initial judge recruiting email.

What’s the judging deadline?
All judging deadlines are included in the email that was sent to you.

Can I forward this judging email to a colleague?
Please ONLY forward the judging email to colleagues who are members of ASHG.

Winners’ Site

Will I be able to read the winning essays after the competition?
Normally, we make highlights from the essay available on the winners page.

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