Annual DNA Day Essay Contest


2024 DNA Day Essay Contest Logo

ASHG is proud to support National DNA Day through the Annual DNA Day Essay Contest. DNA Day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the discovery of the double helix of DNA in 1953.

This contest is open to students in grades 9-12 worldwide and asks students to examine, question, and reflect on important concepts in genetics. Essays are expected to be well-reasoned arguments that indicate a deep understanding of scientific concepts related to the essay question. They are evaluated by ASHG members through three rounds of scoring.

2024 Contest Results

2024 Question

Many human diseases have a genetic component. Some diseases result from a change in a single gene or even multiple genes. Yet, many diseases are complex and stem from an interaction between genes and the environment. Environmental factors may include chemicals in the air or water, nutrition, microbes, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and social context. Provide an example of how the interplay of genetics and environment can shape human health.

Important Dates

  • Early January, 2024: Submission site opens
  • March 6, 2024: Submission site closes
  • April 25, 2024: DNA Day! Winners and Honorable Mentions announced


1st Place Winner: $1,000 for student
$1,000 genetics materials grant

2nd Place Winner: $600 for student
$600 genetics materials grant

3rd Place Winner: $400 for student
$400 genetics materials grant

Honorable Mentions: 10 student prizes of $100 each

Questions? Email

Rubric & Rules

The rubric below is used by judges to evaluate every essay in the second and third rounds of judging.

Criteria Points
Overall accuracy of the science 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:


Rules & Requirements

  • No LLM (large-language model) tool will be accepted as a credited author on this essay. That is because any attribution of authorship carries with it accountability for the work, and AI tools cannot take such responsibility. Students using LLM tools should document this use in the citations section.
  • Essays must be submitted by a teacher or administrator and written by high school students (grades 9-12) in the U.S. and internationally. Parents may submit essays if the student is home schooled.
  • Essays must be written by one individual student; group submissions are not permitted.
  • Essays must be in English and no more than 750 words. Word count includes in-text citations, but not reference lists.
  • Submissions should not include the student’s name in the essay text. This helps with impartial judging.
  • Essays must include at least one reference. References should be clearly documented with both in-text citations and in the references list. The reference list should be separately entered in the “References” section of the submission page.
  • APA or MLA style can be used for citations. There is no limit on how many references students may use, but they should avoid too many references, as judges want to know the student’s opinion on the question and not the opinion of the resources.
  • Quality of references will be considered by judges when scoring.
  • Only classroom teachers are eligible for the equipment grant.
  • Teachers of first-place winners from 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 are not eligible for equipment grants in 2024.

Please Note 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 website, newsletter, or in other ASHG publications.


Plagiarism will not be tolerated. The text of the student’s essay must be his or her own words unless quotations are explicitly noted. If plagiarism is suspected during any point of the contest, the essay in question will be examined. Essays found to contain the uncited work of others will be disqualified and the student’s teacher will be notified. gives a helpful explanation of what plagiarism is.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How many essays can one student submit?
Only one entry per student.

How many essays can one teacher submit on behalf of students?
Each teacher may submit up to six student essays per class, for up to three classes.

What are low-quality a high-quality sources?
A low-quality source is one that doesn’t guarantee accurate information, such as Wikipedia. High-quality sources include research journals, such as those accessible through PubMed.

What is included in the 750-word count, and what is not?

  • All text in the essay, in-line citations/references, headings and titles, and image captions are included in the word count
  • The reference list is the only text not included in the word count.

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.

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

Can my guidance counselor or another school administrator submit my essay for me?

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

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.

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

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

Common Pitfalls

Summarized below are some of the most common issues judges note in reading submitted essays.

  1. Too much focus on details. 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.
  2. Overstating. Sweeping and grandiose overstatements of the current/future state and/or utility of biotechnology or biomedical science.
  3. Inaccuracy in technical language. Judges know you do not know all the “science jargon,” so don’t feel obligated to use it.
  4. Lack of in-text citations in, or lack of citations for information that is not considered common knowledge. If you got the information from somewhere else, cite the source.
  5. Using out-of-date references. Scientific understanding changes very rapidly, and references that are more than five years old are likely to have outdated ideas.
  6. Using too many quotes. Although occasional use is warranted, too many quotes lead judges to think the author doesn’t grasp the topic.
Past Winners

Check out the links below for excerpts from past winners’ essays!

2023 2015
2022 2014
2021 2013
2020 2012
2019 2011
2018 2010
 2017 2009
 2016  2008
 2015  2007

Want to become a judge? If you are a current-year ASHG member, you will receive an email each February inviting you to volunteer. If you did not receive the email or cannot locate it, please contact You can also volunteer by the visiting the ASHG involvement page. You may forward the judge recruiting email ONLY to fellow ASHG current members. The deadline to sign up as a judge is the usually the end of February for that year’s Contest. If you have questions about future years, please contact


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