DNA Writer: Storing Information in DNA Exercise

Posted February 2, 2013

by Lensyl Urbano

DNA Writer: Translate text into a DNA code (and back again) using a simple lookup table.

I created this little DNA Writer webpage after seeing the article on scientists recording one of Shakespeare’s sonnets on DNA, I was inspired to put together something similar as an assignment for my middle-school science class to demonstrate how DNA records information. With the website to do quick translations for me, I’ll give each student the translation table and a simple message in DNA code and have them figure out the message.

Update: I’ve adapted the code to add a two to five letter sequence of non-coding DNA to the beginning and end of the message code. There’s also start and stop code as well.

The DNA sequence (or RNA in this figure) can be broken down into groups of three nucleotides called codons. Each codon codes for a specific amino acid, so the order of codons gives the sequence of amino acids in the proteins created by the DNA strand. Image by TransControl via Wikipedia.

The DNA Writer code uses a simple look-up table where each letter in the English alphabet is assigned a unique three letter nucleotide code. The three letters are chosen from the letters of the DNA bases – AGCT – similar to the way codons are organized in mRNA. Any unknown characters or punctuation are ignored.

Also, with a little tweaking, I think I can adapt this assignment to show how random mutation can be introduced into DNA sequences during transcription. Maybe break the class into groups of 4, give the first student a message as a nucleotide sequence have them copy and pass it on to the next student and so on. If I structure this as a race between the groups, then someone’s bound to introduce some errors, so when they translate the final code back into English they should see how the random mutation affected their code.

UPDATE: Non-Coding (junk) DNA: I’ve updated the code so that you have the option of adding a short (2-5 character) string of non-coding DNA to the beginning and end of each sequence.

A more personalized and printer friendly format for output.

UPDATE 2: Personalized and Printable output: Since I’m using the DNA writer to give each student a personalized message, I’ve created a button that gives “Printer Friendly Output” which will produce an individualized page with the code, the translation table, and some information on how it works, so I can print off individualized assignments more easily.

UPDATE 3: You can now get a color coded version of the sequence.

Ravenclaw’s DNA sequence color coded, and translated back to English.

Update 4: Now you can embed the nucleobase color patterns into other websites. Like so:

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. DNA Writer: Storing Information in DNA Exercise, Retrieved December 11th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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