Exploring Genetics and Ancestry

Demystifying the Science Behind Genetics & Ancestry Promotional Image

Nebraska Public Media explored the latest developments in genetic medicine and explored what creates identity. Using excerpts from the recent documentary, The Gene: An Intimate History, and season 7 of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s acclaimed series Finding Your Roots, these two events aimed to demystify the science behind genetic medicine and ancestry testing.


Genetic Medicine and You
Tuesday, March 9, 2021

A discussion of the latest developments in genetic medicine and research as seen in The Gene: An Intimate History, including therapies and personalized medicine, featuring:

  • Robin Bowman, Professional Development Associate at the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd)
  • Chris Durrance, director of The Gene: An Intimate History
  • Dr. Maurice Godfrey, Professor at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (moderator)
  • Dr. Lois Starr, Clinical Geneticist and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center


Is DNA Ancestry? Personal Genetics and Cultural Heritage
Thursday, March 18, 2021

This event explored how ancestry testing works and discussed the differences between genetic ancestry and cultural heritage. Our panelists were:

  • Dr. Carla Easter, Chief of the Education and Community Involvement Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
  • Dr. Kenneth Ramos, Executive Director, Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Texas A&M University System
  • Dr. Dennis Smith (Fort Peck Assiniboine), Associate Professor of History and Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha
  • Dana Waring, Co-Founder and Education Director of the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd) (moderator)
Watch past episodes of Finding Your Roots on the PBS website.

Genetics Resources and Lesson Plans

  • Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd)
    pgEd’s goal is to engage students in the exciting and complex issues in personal genetics. We create curriculum and develop workshops to bring the cutting edge of genetics and the associated ethical, legal, and social implications into classrooms. With an emphasis on social justice, our materials are relevant to multiple subjects, including biology, health, social studies, law, physical education and psychology.
  • The Gene on PBS LearningMedia
    Access lesson plans and resources related to The Gene: An Intimate History. Topics include At-Home Genetics Testing, the History of Eugenics, and Genetic Treatments and Medicine.
  • Finding Your Roots on PBS LearningMedia
    Find lesson plans and video clips based on the current and past seasons of Finding Your Roots, with  modules about ancestry research and more.
  • Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings on PBS LearningMedia
    Inspired by the popular PBS series "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." and shot on the campus of Penn State University, "Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings" follows 13 young people in a genetics and genealogy camp as they explore their family history and DNA ancestry with techniques never before used in an educational setting.
  • The Gene Children's Book List from PBS Books
    Check out this list of books compiled by PBS Books that will help children better understand genetics and DNA. 
  • Finding Your Roots Children's Book List from PBS Books
    This curated list will help introduce children to genealogy and family history. 
  • uBEATS from the University of Nebraska Medical Center
    Explore a series of cancer, genetics, pathology and microbiology, pharmacology, and career modules for students in grades 6-12. Each grade has modules designed specifically for their age group. Download lesson plans on topics including Plant Genetics, Heredity, Genetic Mutation, GMOs in Food, Bioethics in Cloning, and more. 
  • Genomics Teaching Tools from the National Human Genome Research Institute
    Specially designed lesson plans on genetics and the genome, including DNA from the Beginning, Tools for Teaching the Microbiome, and Transcription and Translation.
  • Teacher Center at the Northwest Association for Biological Research
    NWABR has an extensive lesson archive including full plans, rubrics, and guidelines, and also provides a variety of professional development programs to promote understanding of biomedical research. Lesson plans include Bioethics 101, Genetic Testing, and Genetic Research. 
  • Learn.Genetics
    Produced by the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, this site provides articles, videos, and interactives on cells, epigenetics, gene therapy, and precision medicine, among other topics.
  • Teach.Genetics
    A companion to the popular Learn.Genetics website, this provides a wealth of resources and information aimed at helping educators bring genetics, bioscience and health alive in the classroom—all free of charge.

The Gene Explained: Animated Series

Everybody is talking about genes. Your body is filled with them. You look the way you do because of them. But do you really know what a gene is? This animated series won’t get you a PhD, but it does clear up a few mysteries about how genes work, how they make us, if we can change them and what they might look like in the future. (Microscope not required.)

Watch all six episodes of the series on PBS.org

Genealogy and Ancestry Resources

Looking for information to jump start your genealogy research? Explore these resources!


Community Partners

Special thanks to the Personal Genetics Education Project and the University of Nebraska Medical Center for their help in planning these events.

About The Gene: An Intimate History

KEN BURNS PRESENTS THE GENE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY is a two-part, four-hour limited series, managed and co-produced by WETA, and developed with Ken Burns, Barak Goodman and Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book upon which the documentary is based.

The series uses science, social history and personal stories to weave together a historical biography of the human genome while also exploring the stunning breakthroughs in understanding the impact genes play on heredity, disease and behavior. From the story of the remarkable achievements of the earliest gene hunters and the bitterly fought race to read the entire human genome, to the unparalleled ethical challenges of gene editing, the documentary is a journey through key genetics discoveries that are some of the greatest achievements in the history of science. In addition to the production, there will be a publicity, social media, and community engagement campaign, as well as the development of educational materials.

About Finding Your Roots

FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., Season Seven episodes will broadcast throughout Winter/Spring2021 and will continue to feature exciting new guests who are game-changers in their fields, with family histories that illustrate the power and diversity of the human experience. Among them are actors Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Jane Lynch, Audra McDonald, Christopher Meloni and Tony Shalhoub; acclaimed musicians Clint Black, Rosanne Cash and Pharrell Williams; groundbreaking directors Kasi Lemmons and John Waters; renowned journalists Gretchen Carlson and Nina Totenberg; hilarious comedians Lewis Black and Jim Gaffigan; popular late night personality Andy Cohen; and more to be announced.

Assembling the extensive family trees and family narratives alongside Dr. Gates are DNA expert CeCe Moore (Founder, The DNA Detective and host of ABC’s The Genetic Detective), and new lead genealogist Nick Sheedy, who carries on the work of founding series genealogist Johni Cerny (Founder, Lineages), who unfortunately passed away in early 2020.

Production funding for KEN BURNS PRESENTS THE GENE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY has been provided by Genentech, 23andMe, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Gray Foundation, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) & Conquer Cancer Foundation, Judy and Peter Blum Kovler Foundation, Craig and Susan McCaw Foundation, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Outreach and Education Partner is National Institutes of Health, National Human Genome Research Institute. Outreach support is provided by Foundation Medicine.

Corporate support for FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., Season Seven is provided by Ancestry and Johnson & Johnson. Support is also provided by Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation of New York, Candace King Weir, The Zegar Family Foundation, Lloyd Carney Foundation, and by The Inkwell Society and its members Felicia A. and Benjamin A. Horowitz Fund; Demond Martin; Sheryl Sandberg and Tom Bernthal; Jim and Susan Swartz; Anne Wojcicki; John and Jennifer Fisher; Fletcher and Benaree Wiley; Gwen and Peter Norton; and Darnell Armstrong and Nicole Commissiong. Major support is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.