The Genie: Molecular Model of Inheritance

What is the Gene-to-Protein Genie?

One of the goals of the Geniverse project is to take the inheritance, meiotic and molecular (protein synthesis) models of genetics, often taught separately, and integrate them into a united experience for students. The Gene-to-Protein Genie represents the molecular model of genetics, also referred to as protein synthesis or the central dogma.

Students observe how the DNA code for each drake gene is translated into a protein that results in a specific phenotype. Students compare the alleles for each trait by identifying the difference in the DNA code, the resulting difference between the proteins produced, and reading a brief description of the protein’s function within the drake. In order to reach a broad audience, we kept this simple and made all mutations single point mutations occurring within the first 60 bases of the DNA code for each gene.

This guide will explain

  • how to access the Genie;
  • how it works;
  • how it might be used with a variety of students.

Accessing the Genie

The Genie unlocks automatically after completion of these Cases. Suggestions for its use are included in the Lesson Plans for these cases.

  • Case #6- the Apprentice Level Genie
  • Case #9- the Advanced Apprentice Level Genie
  • Case #14- the Journeyman Level Genie
  • Case #18- the Grand Master Level Genie (Bog Breath Level)

Each time a new level of the Genie unlocks, the genes explored up to that point are available to students to be examined. Other genes either remain hidden or are grayed out and inaccessible until future Cases are completed.

If necessary, all Genie levels can be unlocked at once (along with the cartoon panels related to Arrow’s story) by following these steps:

  • Use this button to navigate to the Geniverse Home Screen (the office scene).
  • Click on the mirror on the wall to the right of the column at center screen.
  • At this prompt, enter the word vroom

How the Genie Works

(a)  When the Genie first opens you see a screen like this. 

(b) Follow the Master Drake Breeder character’s instructions by selecting one of the allele options from the pull-down menu of one of the available genes. This example uses the “Compare Metallic to Non-metallic” option, which brings you to this screen. 

(c) Now the Master Drake Breeder instructs you to click the “Send DNA” button mid-screen, taking you to the screen shown below.

(d) Buttons to the right of each window allow one to transcribe and/or translate step-by-step or all at once. One can then unfold and refold the protein. Selecting “Translate all” moves the animation first through transcription, then through translation and results in a folded protein. See the still shots below.

 

 

The Genie is programmed to fold in 2D according to very basic principles. The folding conveys forces related to charge, size of molecule, and the amino acid being either hydrophobic or hydrophilic.

 

 

 

 

 

Using the Genie with Students

The Genie was designed to help students connect genes to traits. Although the topics of inheritance, meiosis, and protein synthesis may be taught sequentially (in varying orders), links between these ideas often occur across expanses of time too large for many students to be able to combine the ideas in their minds. Geniverse introduces all three models of genetics within the first six Cases of the software.

With relevant guidance, students of any level can glean sufficient understanding from the Genie to help build the cognitive bridge between genes and traits. Tailor its use to the abilities and needs of your students and all will learn from it. The Genie can serve as a basic overview of protein synthesis, serve as an introduction to studying it in more depth, or serve as a review if protein synthesis has already been studied. One may cover all of protein synthesis while engaging students with Geniverse, or simply highlight the basics, drawing upon the excellent animations embedded in the Genie, and either leave it at that or return to the details another time.

My students don’t need to know the details of protein synthesis.

The graphics and animations in the Genie will help students connect genes to traits, without their needing to learn details about protein synthesis. For example, the image below outlines some bare-bones basics.

The Genie Guide for Students explains how to use the Genie. The Lesson Plans for Cases 6, 9, 14, and 18 each include a student handout with specific instructions for using the Genie at that level, directing their attention to the most relevant elements. The Genie could be projected to the entire class the first time and worked through together.

Who knows, maybe students will want to know more after seeing the Genie animations!

See the Guide to Using Arrow’s Story for the role the Genie plays in solving for Arrow’s illness.

I need to make sure my students understand the processes of protein synthesis.

The Gene-to-Protein Genie is an excellent starting point for learning about protein synthesis, providing a context for it. Here is an example of one way the Genie might be used in conjunction with a broader exploration of protein synthesis.

  • The Genie unlocks for the first time after students complete Case 6. Have them use the Genie Guide for Students and the Case6_Genie_Organizer to explore what the Genie illustrates and to connect it to what they have been learning about drake traits and phenotypes.
  • Follow this with a review of and/or discussion about this first Genie activity. Provide students with a view of what they will be learning about protein synthesis and a rough idea of when.
  • Address the details of protein synthesis when appropriate for your situation. Help students connect this learning to their experiences and learning using the Geniverse Gene-to-Protein Genie. 

The Genie animations and graphics come from The Concord Consortium’s Molecular Workbench program.  It includes an activity sequence for protein synthesis that one might consider using in conjunction with the Gene-to-Protein Genie.

I’m working with advanced students who already know about protein synthesis.

These students are likely to be comfortable using the Genie and it might serve as a review of what they remember about protein synthesis. Consider presenting students with the following:

  • How does a gene result in a specific trait or characteristic in a living organism? Use specific observations and information from the Gene-to-Protein Genie to support your answer.
  • Use the Genie to identify the specific point mutation that results in there being different alleles for the _____ trait in drakes. How does this point mutation affect the amino acid sequence for each allele for this trait? How does this mutation affect the phenotype of the drake for this trait?

Students can be introduced to some of the basic principles of protein folding or use the Genie to apply what they already know about it. Keep in mind that the folding only conveys forces related to charge, size of molecule, and the amino acid being either hydrophobic or hydrophilic, and folding only in 2D. Students might do one or more of the following:

  • Use the Gene-to-Protein Genie to view the difference between the protein product of the alleles for the _____ trait in drakes. Explain how the mutation between the alleles impacts the folding of the protein product for this gene.
  • Give them the DNA sequence for each allele of a specific drake gene (or have them look at it) and identify the point of mutation. They can then determine the amino acid sequence and predict the impact on the folding of the protein. Afterwards, they can check their predictions by playing through the animation in Geniverse.