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National DNA Day  commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the discovery of the double helix of DNA in 1953.


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The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) invites you to participate in the 11th Annual DNA Day Essay Contest! The contest is open to students in grades 9-12.

The contest aims to challenge students to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in genetics. Essays are expected to contain substantive, well-reasoned arguments indicative of a depth of understanding of the concepts related to the essay question. Essays are read and evaluated by several independent judges through three rounds of scoring.




1st Place Winner: $1,000 + $1,000 genetics materials grant for teacher
2nd Place Winner: $600 + $600 genetics materials grant for teacher
3rd Place Winner: $400 + $400 genetics materials grant for teacher
Honorable Mention: 10 prizes of $100 each

2016 Question


Choose a genetic test that is currently available for a condition or disease that does not cause symptoms until adulthood (i.e., an adult-onset condition such as hereditary breast cancer). Describe how the test works and how certain the test results are. Then, either defend or refute the recommendation below from ASHG’s recent position statement on pediatric genetic testing.

"Adolescents should be encouraged to defer predictive or pre-dispositional testing for adult-onset conditions until adulthood because of the complexity of the potential impact of the information at formative life stages."




Essay Contest Rules


  1. Essays will be accepted from high school students (grades 9-12) in the US and internationally. A teacher or administrator must submit the essay and authenticate that the submission is the original work of the student. Parents may submit the essays of home-schooled students only. Only one entry may be submitted for each student. 


  2. All essays must be written in English and are limited to 750 words, including in-text citations. Essay titles are optional and will be counted towards the word limit. Reference lists do not count toward the 750 word limit.

  3. Each teacher may only submit six student essays per class, for up to three classes. 

  4. Essays must be submitted electronically through the ASHG submission site no later than 5:00 pm EST on March 11, 2016. The ASHG submission site will open in early January 2016. Essays mailed, faxed, or emailed to the Society will NOT be accepted. Once submitted, essays cannot be changed or revised.

  5. The text of student essays must be original prose unless quotations are explicitly noted.  Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If plagiarism is suspected during any point of the contest, ASHG's Plagiarism Review Board will examine the essay in question. Essays found to contain the uncited work of others will be disqualified, and the student’s teacher will be notified. This video from Carteret Community College Library gives a great overview of what constitutes plagiarism.




  1. Essays must include at least one reference.  References must be clearly documented with both in-text citations and in the references list (the reference list should be separately entered into the “References” section of the submission page). Students may use either APA or MLA style for citing references. There is no restriction on how many references students may use. Quality of references will be considered by judges when scoring.  General references such as Wikipedia are considered low-quality, whereas primary literature from research journals (see is considered high-quality.

  2. Only classroom teachers are eligible for the equipment grant. Teachers of first-place winners from 2013, 2014, and 2015 are not eligible for equipment grants in 2016.


Please note that text from essays may be used for research purposes to identify misconceptions, misunderstandings, and areas of student interest in genetics. Student text may be published on the ASHG Web site, newsletter or in other ASHG-supported publications.




Overall accuracy of the genetics content 0-6
Use of evidence in support of an argument/answer;

essay well-focused on the question/topic selected

Writing quality (clear thesis, composition, grammar, syntax, spelling) 0-5
References and citations (quality and appropriateness) 0-3

Total points possible:

Common Pitfalls

Summarized below are some of the most common issues judges flag in reading submitted essays. Note that judges, rather than student essays, are quoted below to obscure the identity of the essay in reference.  

  1. A focus on details to the detriment of demonstrating a clear understanding of the big picture. Judges are much more forgiving of errors in details than errors in fundamental concepts and larger ideas.   

Example: "Got the small facts right and the big ones wrong."

  1. Sweeping and grandiose overstatements of the current/future state and/or utility of biotechnology or biomedical science. 

Example: "It's concerning that this student believes gene therapy is a 'prevalent medical cure for deadly diseases.' "

  1. Inaccuracy in technical language.

Example: "The student confuses genes and alleles."

  1. Description of phenomena or advances with no explicit argument connecting them to the question.

Example: "Student does not link the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure to the development of microarrays, DNA fingerprinting, and probe technology. The student simply describes all four of these things."

  1. Misunderstanding the nature of a scientific advancement.

Example: "Cites Watson and Crick as discovering DNA rather than the structure of DNA."

  1. Lack of in-text citations in general, or lack of citations for information that is not considered common knowledge. In the latter case, students often make wild, unsupported claims that may be tempered if they must find references to support their information.

Example: "Many good references are listed but the information in the essay has no citations - not even information that is highly technical. Lack of citations is inappropriate, leaving the reader to surmise or guess at the source."

  1. Using out-of-date references.  Scientific understandings change very rapidly, and references that are more than five years old are likely to espouse outdated ideas.

Example: "One concern I have with this essay (reason for rating references low) is that a reference from 2001 is used. Genomic medicine changes so rapidly that many publications from 2-3 years ago are outdated, never mind 12 years ago!"

  1. Using too many quotes.  Although occasional use is warranted, too many quotes lead judges to think the author has no thoughts of their own.

Example: "Although this essay is well-written, most of the essay contains sentences directly quoted from the references rather than the student describing the facts in his/her own words. I could not determine if the student understood the content."




Previous Winners










2008: High School

2008: Middle School



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