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Interactives -- DNA

About this Interactive

Introduction | Goals | How to Use This Site | Credits


DNA is an interactive Web site where students can learn about DNA and its structure and function, the scientific history of its discovery and its development into a powerful tool in biology, technology, and medicine, and about the Human Genome Project, genetic engineering, and some of the implications and ethical issues surrounding genetic technology.

Students will be introduced to genetics (the study of genes and heredity) and genetic terminology, and will learn about the history of the study of genes and genetic inheritance. They will learn the basic laws of heredity, and employ tools for the study of genetic inheritance. Several interactive activities will expand upon this knowledge and test students' understanding of the concepts. Through an interactive timeline, students will explore the history of DNA, and will learn about the Human Genome Project and its purpose, the differences between DNA, RNA, and proteins, and about genetic engineering. Interactive activities will illuminate more details about DNA transcription, RNA translation, and genetic engineering. Students will also examine some of the implications of and ethical questions raised by genetic technology such as cloning, gene therapy, and genetically modified food.


The goal of this site is to provide educators and students with content and activities that will enhance and improve students' understanding of DNA as a major constituent of all living cells, and as a determinant of the physical structure and functioning of living things. The identification of the structure of DNA has given scientists the ability to sequence (or map) the entire Human Genome and the genomes of many other organisms, which, in turn, has provided new insight into our evolution, physiology, and a host of genetically inherited traits. Scientists now have the ability to manipulate DNA in many surprising and profound ways. The technology has implications not just for health and human society, but raises a number of ethical issues. Learning about DNA and its history and about current and future genetic technology will give students a solid grounding in the biological sciences and an historical perspective on science as a human endeavor.

According to the National Science Education Standards for life science (Content Standard C: Life Science), as a result of their activities in grades 9-12 students should develop an understanding of the

  • Molecular basis of heredity
  • Biological evolution
  • Interdependence of organisms
  • Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
  • Behavior of organisms
Activities that explore these concepts will help students develop the ability to do scientific inquiry and to understand the investigative process. (Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry).

In addition, according to the National Science Education Standards for life science (Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science), as a result of their activities in grades 9-12 students should develop an understanding of the

  • Science as a human endeavor
  • Nature of scientific knowledge
  • Historical perspectives
With these standards in mind, the specific goals of the DNA interactive are for students to:

  • Learn about the molecular basis of heredity and about patterns of inheritance. In all organisms, DNA carries the instructions specifying the characteristics of the organism. The chemical and structural properties of DNA explain how the genetic information that underlies heredity is both encoded in genes and replicated. Each DNA molecule in a cell forms a single chromosome. Most of the cells in a human contain two copies of each of 22 different chromosomes, plus a pair of chromosomes that determines sex. One copy of each chromosome comes from each parent. Spontaneous changes in DNA, or mutations, create variation in species, and this variation, over time, causes the biological evolution that produces new species (which nevertheless share much of their genetic information).

  • Understand how genetic information relates to the functioning of cells and of organisms and how transcription and translation operate. In cells, the information contained within sequences of DNA is converted into RNA molecules with specific sequences; these RNA sequences, are, in turn, used to construct protein molecules, which provide the structure of cells and functional abilities. The production of RNA sequences from DNA is called "transcription"; the production of proteins from RNA sequences is called "translation."

  • Learn how to solve problems involving genetic inheritance Punnett Squares are used to solving genetic inheritance problems involving simple inheritance, sex-linked inheritance, and problems with multiple alleles

  • Learn about the history of genetics and DNA and how it gave rise modern molecular technology, including the Human Genome Project Our earliest understanding of the patterns of inheritance was due largely to the work of Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, who cultivated and studied varieties of the garden pea plant. Later scientists determined that DNA is the molecule of inheritance and deciphered the structure of DNA. Modern scientists expanded upon this knowledge to learn how to produce large quantities of DNA, and how to genetically engineer new drugs. Scientists have developed the capacity to clone-or produce identical copies-of organisms. With the Human Genome Project, scientists deciphered the entire genetic sequence that's necessary to produce a human being. The genomes of many organisms have now been sequenced -information that may lead to the discovery of organisms or proteins that can aid in energy production, help clean toxins out of the environment, and help scientists develop new ways to produce chemicals.

  • Identify and discuss the technological and ethical implications of genetic technology such as in cloning, gene testing, and the genetic modification of food.

In keeping with the expected knowledge of students in grades 9-12, the DNA interactive will help assess the skills necessary to be successful in genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and to understand the role of human accomplishment in the scientific endeavor.

How to Use This Site

The DNA Interactive consists of a brief introduction, five sessions, and an assessment. Each session describes various concepts in detail, often with the aid of one or more interactive components that allow students to explore concepts introduced in the session or to evaluate their understanding of the information. Students should carefully read each section and use the interactive to supplement their knowledge of concepts such as transcribing DNA and translating mRNA sequences, engineering plasmids, and solving genetic inheritance problems using Punnett Squares. The "History of DNA" session consists of an interactive timeline that reveals important events in the discovery of DNA and how it functions, and in the use of genetic technology. Students can go back and review the sessions as needed, and run the animations again until they have a thorough understanding of the subject matter.

The DNA Interactive can be incorporated into a larger unit about life sciences or as part of a unit on the history and nature of science. It provides a good introduction to cell and molecular biology, and genetics, including the genetic basis of diseases.

Technical Requirements

  1. Browser using Internet Explorer 5 (and higher) and Mozilla 5 (and higher)

  2. Flash player 7 minimum requirement

  3. Javascript in browser is turned on


Production Credits

DNA is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York. Copyright 2007, Annenberg Media. All rights reserved.

Content Production

Kathy Svitil, Writer
Kathy Svitil is a senior science writer at the California Institute of Technology, where she produces the "The Loh Down on Science," a daily humorous science program airing on 89.3 KPCC, Southern California's largest National Public Radio affiliate, and other stations nationwide. She formerly was a writer and editor with Discover magazine, and has been a freelance science, health, and technology writer for 15 years. Svitil's book, "Calming the Anger Storm," on the psychology and biology of anger, was published in 2004.

Leslie Kriesel, Lisa Weinberger, Copy Editors

Interactive and Broadband Unit

Anthony Chapman, Director of Interactive and Broadband
Brian Pritchett, Associate Producer
Michael DiMauro, Flash Action Script Programmer
Alan Basedan, Flash Action Script Programmer
Charlene Burris, Flash Action Script Programmer
Brian Santalone, HTML Implementation
Radik Shvarts, Designer
Ying Zhou-Hudson, Graphics Production

Related Resources

Rediscovering Biology: Molecular to Global Perspectives
Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science
Unseen Life on Earth: An Introduction to Microbiology
The World of Chemistry

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