Communicating genetic research with the help of information design
Can you imagine what genetic diversity looks like in large populations or visualise where genes are located on chromosomes in relation to each other?
Understanding scientific concepts and findings requires the ability to draw a mental image of the behaviour of invisible objects or abstract ideas. Genetics is a particularly challenging discipline to imagine, since it deals with large sets of data and complex associations between thousands of genes and characteristics of thousands of individuals.
FinnGen has teamed up with researchers from the Information Design group led by Professor Rupesh Vyas at the Department of Art and Media at Aalto University to create visual representations of the data we work with and the results we produce. Data visualisation tools developed in collaboration with the researchers at Aalto University have helped our research team understand and interpret our findings and see connections in the complex genetic landscape.
Together with Aalto University we have now produced a resource that uses data visualisation to tell the FinnGen story to a wider audience. The scrollytelling website applies interactive information design to explain the principles of human genetics and demonstrates the power of genome wide association studies in discovering genetic variants connected to diseases. It illustrates how a sample donated by a single individual can contribute to medical research on a global scale and further the development of solutions that can be used to treat or prevent diseases.
“It is an exciting journey to dive into FinnGen’s data, working in close contact with genetic researchers to bridge the gap between scientists and the general audience.The challenges we’re facing, to make the data easy to navigate and to communicate the project, are a rare opportunity to study the design of visual displays of complex information”, says PhD Researcher Nicola Cerioli from Aalto who coordinated the work.
The scrollytelling website was implemented by four students at the Department of Media Design of Aalto University, Adelaida Avila, Anastasia Balagurova, Ulla Eronen and Margo Nowicka.
Margo describes the project as both demanding and inspirational.
“Faced with the complexity of the research done at FinnGen, my teammates and I tried to create a story that would help us understand its wide scope and impact. We were excited to visualise and see the impact that one participant can have on the genome studies and on the inspiring future of medicine," she says.
Enter the scrollytelling website: https://geneviz.aalto.fi/what-is-finngen/
Read more about the project from the Aalto University news article.