Discover how DNA contains the instructions for life.
We have developed a series of clips to explore the Life Fantastic with your students. The pages are intended for use as a prompt to help you prepare when exploring these topics in lessons. Teachers have told us that the videos and questions best suit being used as a topic introduction.
On this page you will find an overview of the topic covered by the clips, a brief summary of each clip, related questions and how the topic links to the curriculum. This is one of eight available resources on developmental biology. For more topics see the teaching resources list.
DNA is a code, an instruction manual for all life. But how does it influence what a cell becomes? The clips introduce the triplet code and how this relates to an amino acid sequence.
The material in this resource is supported by video clips from the CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2013.
This resource is suitable for Key Stages 3 and 4 and AS/A2 level. Full curriculum links are given at the bottom of the page.
The clip starts with the conundrum – how does the DNA code influence what a cell is to become? How do four DNA letters give rise to the 20 different amino acids we find in proteins? The answer lies in the degenerate triplet code. Alison Woollard decodes a DNA sequence into amino acids live in the theatre, showing how each group of three DNA letters, the codon, gives a single amino acid. Looking at the fully decoded sequence, we find a jumble of letters demarked by a number of points of punctuation. This jumble represents possible amino acids, but amongst this are two sentences representing two protein-coding genes.
Running Time: 3 min 37 secs
With the help of an audience member Alison Woollard finds two sentences within the translated DNA sequence. Amongst the amino acids are ‘MAKEALIVERCELL’ and ‘MAKEAHEARTCELL’. These sentences represent two different proteins that are encoded in the DNA. Alison explains that the proteins produced by these two genes could have different roles and cause the cells to do different things. But how do we get different cells if all our cells contain the same DNA? In the final part of the sequence, Alison explains that these genes are turned on and off in different cells and it is by this mechanism that even though every cell in our body contains the same genes, we can still have a great diversity of cells.
Running Time: 4 min 32 secs
Next in Where Do I Come From?, Alison introduces a widely used genetic engineering technique – the copying and pasting of the gene encoding green fluorescent protein (GFP) from one organism to another. In this example the GFP gene from jellyfish has been transferred into nematode worms. GFP fluoresces in the muscle cells of this worm because the GFP gene is being switched on when the muscle protein gene is also switched on.
Running Time: 3 min 20 secs
To extend this resource for A-level students, take a look at the Royal Institution’s series of videos on the human genome, Chromosome. Within this series are a number of videos looking at different genes. Of particular relevance to the discussion of gene function and gene expression are chromosome 13, which looks at two genes that are important in the control of cancer, and chromosome 16, which looks at the gene which is altered in people with ginger hair.
Conforming to ‘Genetics and Evolution: Inheritance, chromosomes, DNA and genes’, this resource expands on knowledge of genes and introduces the triplet code of DNA.
The resource explains the genetic code found in the DNA and introduces the idea of a sequence of bases corresponding to a sequence of amino acids in a protein and corresponds to the requirements in:
The clips go beyond the specification requirements by discussing the triplet code, though they introduce the concept with a simple exploration of how DNA codes for the correct amount of amino acids and how a group of amino acids can make different proteins.
The clips provide a platform for the discussion of the genetic code. They describe the triplet code found in DNA and how this results in a corresponding amino acid sequence. They also illustrate how gene expression needs to be controlled in order to express the correct gene in the correct location and give an example of where this is taken advantage of in a gene cloning technique with green fluorescent protein. This conforms to: