Family Tree

Part of Exhibition: Code name: DNA

Topic: Life Sciences Subtopic: Heredity & Genetics

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Diana Issidorides

Published on June 12, 2007, Modified on June 12, 2007

  • Description and goals

    Scientific concepts
    • inheritance of traits
    • homozygous versus heterozygous genes
    • dominant versus recessive genes
    • genotype versus phenotype

    Like Make a Face (see separate case study), Family Tree is an exhibit on the inheritance of traits and part of NEMO’s exhibition on Genetics. Visitors experiment with the laws of heredity and the mechanisms of dominant and recessive inheritance, by actively selecting the genes that will be passed on ‘down the family tree’. The tree is three-sided, offering three different traits to experiment with: human eye color, human earlobe type, and the color of a cow’s hide, respectively [pictures 1, 2 and 3].

    In so doing, visitors explore the relationship between genotype and phenotype down three generations.
    Take eye color, for example: for each of the four grandparents, visitors press on one of the two alleles for eye color that they want to pass on to the parents. The choices are translated into a blue or brown light that is switched on in the eyes of the two parents [picture 4 and 5]. Visitors subsequently choose which allele of each of the two parents will be passed on to the grandchild. The eyes of the grandchild then light up with either blue or brown lights [picture 6].

    Exhibit copy stress that:
    1. genetic inheritance laws are simplified for purposes of the game, and
    2. in normal reproduction, the gene that is passed on is the result of a random process
    [picture 7]

    Players are encouraged to experiment with the different traits and explore which combination of genes (genotype) results in which combination of traits (phenotype), and why.

    This exhibit has been very effective in illustrating difficult concepts, due both to its intuitive game flow and to the direct feedback players get, each time they make or change a choice.

    In developing this exhibit, we were aware of the potentially sensitive nature of human inheritance exhibits for visitors whose children or parents are not genetically related. The decision to include or exclude exhibits on human inheritance in our museums and science centers is one that each institution must make.

  • Exhibit Opened: February 2002

  • Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

  • Estimated Cost: $10,000 to $50,000 (US)

  • Website(s):

Latest Comments (1)

Infidelity and the ethics of inheritance exhibits

by Colin Purrington - March 04, 2008

There are also husbands out there who are completely unaware that the kids in their house are not actually theirs. Up to 5% in some communities by some studies. I’m not saying I dislike such exhibits — on the contrary. But I think many people are surprised at how frequent “false monogamy” is in humans.

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