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Letters and Words in Our Genome

Activity Description

The students practice using the genetic code and translate DNA sequence into amino acid sequence. They explore the impact that changes in DNA sequence can have on amino acid sequence and, ultimately, how this may change some physical feature or personal characteristic. 

Estimated Time of Activity

Up to 1.5 hours

Activity Objectives

Students will be able do the following as a result of the activity:

  1. Use the universal genetic code to translate any given DNA sequence into amino acid sequence
  2. Explain the concept of redundency or "silent sites" in the genetic code
  3. Explain in simple terms the function of the red-sensitive opsin protein  

Activity Prerequisites

Students should have a basic understanding of translation (that proteins come from genes). This was reinforced in the previous activity with the 3D RNA model. 

Activity Instructions

  1. Red-green color blindness test and survey
  2. Give students hand out and discuss the OPN1LW gene. 
  3. Discuss the universal genetic code
  4. As a group, translate the first 3 codons of the OPN1LW gene
  5. Have students individually translate the next 3 codons of the OPN1LW gene
  6. Have each student make up a unique DNA sequence that is 18 base pairs long
  7. Have each student translate their DNA sequence
  8. Discuss any problems, such as redundency and stop codons


Students should each turn in a correct translation of their made-up DNA sequence. 


  • Student handout
  • Blank paper for writing out DNA sequence and translation

Instructor’s Notes