Connecting Science with the Public

GEM organizes and supports events and activities to promote genomic and microbiomic literacy at all levelsfrom K-12 schools, to colleges, the general public, and experts in related fields. 

GEM seeks to broaden the reach of the scientific community, to help translate complicated scientific findings into more easily understandable concepts, and to provide an avenue for the public to learn more about new topics such as ethical concepts in genetics, the importance of the microbiome, and how precision medicine is poised to change the way we make health decisions. Visit our Community Education page to view our collection of online resources and videos. 

GEM Genome & Microbiome Brochures

Graphic design by Vanessa Reitz Graphic Design

Past Outreach Activities

Community Information Tables

Members of the public learn how to extract DNA at a health fair.

The GEM Outreach Team was created in Summer 2017 to conduct a variety of engaging science outreach activities with the general adult public, with a particular focus on community health fairs in the City of Buffalo. Summer 2017 events included: Juneteenth, Friendship Baptist Church Health Fair, UB On the Green (twice), Miracle  Missions Gospel Church Health Fair, National Night Out at Lincoln Memorial Church, Feds Get Fit Health Fair, BNMC Block Party, and the Elmwood Arts Festival.

The GEM outreach team distributes GEM brochures on genomic health literacy and microbiome and antibiotics awareness, conducts interactive DNA extraction and antibiotics awareness activities, and solicits research participants for the local version of the UB Genomic Literacy Survey.

Community feedback for these activities and GEM messaging has been overwhelmingly positive. Many adults are fascinated by the concept of “good bacteria”, and appreciate learning how scientific concepts can be personally relevant.

UB Mini Medical School: Trends in Medicine, Our Healthcare Future, Genomics

Attendees at the UB Mini Medical School.

GEM affiliates spoke on a panel for the April 2017 Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Mini Medical School session on the future of healthcare. More than 75 members of the public engaged with the three speakers as they learned more about how genomic and genetic testing plays a role and will play a bigger role in healthcare of the future. A video of the session is provided on the website of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at this link

GEM Mini Med School Panelists

Laurene M. Tumiel Berhalter, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Translational Research, Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo; Director of the Community Engagement Core, University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute

Laurene Tumiel Berhalter is an epidemiologist by training and currently serves as the Director of Community Translational Research in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Buffalo and the Director of the Community Engagement Core of the Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Institute. She has over 20 years’ experience in community based participatory research, practice-based research, and health disparities. She has long-standing partnerships with primary care practices and community-based organizations dedicated to underserved communities.

Heather M. Ochs-Balcom, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Health Professions, University at Buffalo

The focus and application of Dr. Ochs-Balcom’s research program is centered on the role of genetics in complex diseases, primarily in cancer health disparities.  Broadly, her work involves the application of genetic epidemiology tools to understand the extent to which genes and lifestyle factors individually and jointly contribute to risk of chronic disease. Interdisciplinary training in epidemiology, genetic epidemiology, statistical genetics and computational approaches in family-based and population-based research aided in establishing a strong foundation on which her research was developed. Her research team completed a genome-wide linkage scan to search for genes related to breast cancer segregating in African American pedigrees, the first study to search for novel genes that may explain the disparity in the incidence of pre-menopausal breast cancer. She is also an active collaborator in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and conducting other gene-environment interaction studies.

Carolyn Farrell, PhD, MS, WHNP-BC, CGC, President and Founder, Professional Genetic Interactions; Adjunct Faculty, School of Nursing, University at Buffalo

Dr. Farrell’s career in genetics spans pediatric and adult disorders, teratogens, neuromuscular diseases and oncology, and includes over 15 years as Director of the Clinical Genetics Service at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. She initiated and collaborated in research with cancer specialists, scientists and health care providers, while leading a team of genetic counselors in providing risk assessment, counseling and genetic testing for persons and families at known or suspected risk of cancer genetic syndromes, including breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers. Her PhD research and current focus is individual perceived health and health values as motivators of health action and priorities in persons who pursued & utilized direct to consumer genome testing. Dr. Farrell is the President and founder of Professional Genetic Interactions, a firm that provides genetic and genome services that include consulting, risk assessment, testing, training, and mentoring on healthcare practice, legal, ethical and policy issues regarding genetics and genomics.

National DNA Day: Cocktails with Coalesce

Members of the public learn how to extract DNA in a lab setting.

The Coalesce Center for Biological Art hosted DNA Cocktails with Coalesce, a public outreach event as part of National DNA Day in April 2017. About 40 people attended the event, where they learned about DNA and then got to extract DNA from strawberries using pineapple juice and rum. After the experiments concluded, the group enjoyed a selection of fermented foods, which also included Bootleg Bucha samples. Attendees also were treated to tours of the Coalesce Center for Biological Art, including learning about Coalesce Director Paul Vanouse’s America project, which involves a spittoon, DNA extraction, and the creation of artwork from that endeavor.  An event assessment provided attendees with the opportunity to share their reflections, which included:

  • “I really enjoyed this event. It gave me the chance to do something that I don't get to do, since I am not in the sciences. Looking forward to attending another event in the future. Well done!!”
  • “It was fun for a broad range of people with different backgrounds.”

The strawberry DNA extraction activity was carried out by 3 GEM volunteers a week later at the “Party on Point” event at UB, which included a showcase of faculty and student work for UB donors. Additionally, the activity has been deployed with great success throughout the summer at various community outreach tables. 

Mind Your Microbiome & Get Smart About Antibiotics Week

UB Pharmacy student speaks with UB student.

In November of 2016 & 2017, GEM held a weeklong series of innovative activities on the UB campus and in the WNY community to engage everyone--from children, to the general public to research scientists--in learning more about the microbiome and the impact of antibiotics. This effort was possible through the work of more than 40 volunteers who called and delivered materials to pharmacies, ran info tables, coordinated classroom workshops, and more.

Outreach included placement of more than 4,000 brochures and posters in WNY pharmacies, public libraries, and medical clinics. Partners for this effort included the CDC, the Erie County Department of Health, the CTSI / Patient Voices Network, and volunteers from the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Through a collaboration with SPPS PharmD students, GEM also organized a panel discussion featuring the Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Health, an infectious disease pharmacist from Buffalo General Medical Center, and a community pharmacist from CVS.

GEM engaged 33 volunteers to coordinate second-grade microbiome workshops in 11classrooms for 235 children and 15 teachers within the Sweet Home Central and Buffalo Public School Districts.