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Central dogma: an integration of science and art

How does DNA code become an expressed trait?

Do your students struggle to understand the “central dogma” of biology? Are you looking for innovative teaching techniques? This unit is an integrated art and science project to teach transcription and translation, which is also known as “central dogma”. This process explains how sequences of DNA are interpreted by organelles in the cell and are expressed as specific proteins. It is a core idea in understanding molecular genetics. Students will create a three-paneled work of art that models the process of transcription and translation. Explicit instructions make this unit accessible to science teachers.

Lessons

Teacher background

Genetics and the study of heredity relies on an understanding of how DNA works to control traits. Students study meiosis to determine the probability of offspring variation, but the actual expression of the trait relies on the sequence of DNA. DNA resides in the nucleus of most cells and has to get the message it holds in its nitrogen base sequence to the cell organelles in order for the cell to synthesize proteins. This occurs through the process of transcription (DNA sequence communicated to mRNA) and translation (the mRNA sequence given to tRNA to gather the amino acids in the right order). Students have practiced this sequence of steps in many ways. This activity helps them to see the relationships between mRNA and tRNA triplets in a different way: not just as shapes of molecules fitting together, but by using art, creating complementary colors for each nitrogen base.

Too often efforts to integrate art and science fall short in helping students master abstract concepts at a deep level. This unit is not about simple diagrams, drawings or illustration. Instead, it demonstrates a substantive arts-integrated approach to teaching challenging science content. While improving science content knowledge is the main goal, the arts-integrated approach gives students opportunities to cultivate technical as well as higher order thinking skills in both disciplines.

Next gen standards

Crosscutting concepts

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Systems and system models
  • Structure and function

Disciplinary core ideas/content

  • LS1A Structure and Function
  • LS3A Inheritance of traits
  • LS3B Variations of traits

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