Decoding DNA-Modeling Protein Synthesis

Grade Level: Middle School and High School

When we look at a living organism, including ourselves, we are seeing proteins or the results of proteins at work. DNA is the instructions in the cell to make these proteins, and as a result it determines nearly everything about us including our eye color, hair color, and hair texture. It determines how the cell functions by ordering the production of enzymes, receptor proteins, and other important proteins. By adding or changing a DNA sequence, we can directly influence the traits of the organism because this new DNA will be used to produce a protein that was not previously produced by the organism. Because DNA is such an important molecule, it is essential to understand how it is used to carry information and produce proteins.

In this activity, students will work in groups of three or four to model protein synthesis. Genes, sections of DNA that code for a protein, will be located in a central location in the room, which will be considered the “nucleus”. The tRNA cards will be located at the group’s workspace, which will serve as the “ribosome”. One group member will go to the nucleus and select a “gene” to transcribe. When finished, the student will take the mRNA back to the ribosome where the group will translate the mRNA strand.