Guinness World Records - Officially Amazing

Largest human DNA helix


On Thursday, April 21 I was in South San Francisco, California to attend a record attempt for the largest human DNA helix.  The record was organized by Genentech, Inc., a biotechnology company that produces research in many fields, including oncology, immunology, and neuroscience.

The event staff at Genentech wanted to put together a fun team-building activity for their employees, and immediately thought of doing a large human DNA helix.  Genentech employees formed a helix back in 1996, although it was not an official Guinness World Records attempt.  Fifteen years later, they wanted to do it again, and make it into the record books this time around.

Upon arrival at the Genentech campus, I was impressed with how organized and under control everything was.  The outline of the helix was drawn on the ground in chalk (acceptable by Guinness World Records standards) and the attempt area was blocked off with three entry points marked.  As employees arrived, they were counted and positioned within the helix.  Once in position, colored hats were distributed that corresponded to the section of the helix where employees were located.  With thousands of scientists at the attempt, the design of the helix needed to be 100% accurate, and the event team did a great job of making sure that the colors were correct and the strand intertwined in the right direction.

Largest human DNA helix
Employees waiting in line to be counted for the record attempt

Largest human DNA helix

The helix beginning to form

Once all employees were counted and positioned, the ten minute countdown began (GWR guidelines mandate that participants must stay in place for a minimum of ten minutes).  Everyone was in high spirits and the weather was sunny and beautiful.  I viewed the helix from a rooftop, and two different helicopters circled above to get aerial shots - one regular helicopter and one miniature helicopter that stole the show by hovering above the crowd and snapping photos.  There was only one minor concern - President Barack Obama was in town and was scheduled to depart San Francisco around the same time as the attempt.  Event staff were worried that the air space overhead would be shut down and the helicopters wouldn't be able to get the aerial photos.  In the end, the scheduling worked out beautifully, as the President departed before the attempt got underway.

Largest human DNA helix

Employees waiting in formation for the required ten minutes

After the ten minutes was up, I collected the final count - a total of 2,640 participants, which was more than ten times the amount required to set the record!  I was happy to announce a new Guinness World Records achievement.

Largest human DNA helix
Special thanks goes out to the staff at Genentech who organized the entire attempt, and especially the Genentech employees who showed their enthusiasm and support in setting a new Guinness World Records achievement.  Congratulations to all on a job well done!

Amanda Mochan

5 May 2011

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