2012 Student Research Conference:
25th Annual Undergraduate and 10th Annual Graduate Research Conference

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Plenary Address

David Micklos
Executive Director, Dolan DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories

Eugenics in 20th Century America: The Kirksville Connection


Plenary Speaker Video

Take a visual tour of the rise and fall of the ill-fated movement to genetically engineer American society.  The Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor, New York was the epicenter of efforts to apply concepts from agricultural genetics to breed better humans – by encouraging reproduction by those deemed fit and discouraging those deemed inferior. After graduating from and teaching at the Normal School in Kirksville, Harry Laughlin rose to prominence in the American movement.  He spearheaded the ERO’s successful efforts to restrict European immigration and to sterilize wards of the state. The concept of eugenic sterilization was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequently implemented with fervor in Nazi Germany, where it became the first step toward Holocaust. Eugenics was both a scientific and popular movement; the line between well-intentioned practitioners and bigots was often thin. A century after the rise of eugenics, we find ourselves in the “new” world of genomics – but still on the slippery slope between personal choice and public will.

Mr. Micklos is founder and executive director of the DNA Learning Center (DNALC) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), ranked #1 worldwide for citation impact in molecular biological research. Operating six teaching labs in the New York metropolitan area, the DNALC provides hands-on lab experiences to 30,000 students per year, and 200,000 students nationwide per year use commercial lab kits developed by the DNALC. The DNALC’s Internet portal hosts 18 proprietary content and bioinformatics sites, which receive 7 million visitors annually. With continuous support from the National Science Foundation since 1986, as well as other foundations, the DNALC has provided intensive lab or Internet training to more than 6,000 science teachers across the U.S. Mr. Micklos is author of the popular textbook DNA Science. He received the 1990 Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education, the 2011 Science Prize for Online Resources in Education, and the 2012 Genetics Society of America Award for Excellence in Education. He is the only CSHL staff member to receive an honorary doctorate from its Watson School of Biological Sciences.  


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