DNA and Solving Rubiks Cubes

Grade Level: 
High School
Subject: 
STEM

All of life as we know it is based off of DNA. Everything from the smallest and simplest organisms to the biggest and most complex creatures ever to live all begin with guanine, cytosine, adenine and thymine. To better understand the universal nature of DNA and to show how four things can create an almost infinite combination of traits, we are going to work with something most (if not all) of you are familiar with: the Rubik’s Cube.

See http://www.youcandothecube.com/downloads/math-lessons/Codons-Lesson.pdf for diagrams and tables.

 

National Science Education Content Standards:

 

5-8:  Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms 

? Hereditary information is contained in genes, located in the chromosomes of each cell 

? An inherited trait of an individual can be determined by one or by many genes and a single gene can influence more than one trait 

? The characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits  

? Although different species might look dissimilar, the unity among organisms becomes apparent from an analysis of internal structures and the similarity of their chemical processes 

 

9-12:  The Cell 

? The genetic information stored in DNA is used to direct the synthesis of the thousands of proteins that each cell requires 

 

9-12:  Molecular Basis of Heredity 

? In all organisms, the instructions for specifying the characteristics of the organism are carried in DNA, a large polymer formed from subunits of four kinds (A, G, C, and T) 

? The chemical and structural properties of DNA explain how the genetic information that underlies heredity is encoded in genes (as a string of molecular “letters”) 

 

9-12:  Biological Evolution 

? Organisms are classified into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on similarities which reflect their evolutionary relationships   

 

This activity can be used in a  biology class when discussing RNA’s role in transcription and translation. The cube acts as our string of mRNA carrying the 18 traits for an imaginary creature the students will make. Each row on the cube will code for a single amino acid and to simplify 

things, our traits are determined by just one amino acid. This activity works best done  individually but pairs would work as well. 

The activity can be simplified by working in groups where each student is responsible for only a fraction of the whole cube (1 side only, 2 sides, etc) and then work together on the drawing.  

 

Suggestion: The activity can also be used when discussing classification by having the students place a collection of created organisms into classes, orders, families, etc based on characteristics of their choosing. They would then need to be able to explain and justify their 

classification.  

 

Time 

1 day in-class (approximately 45 minutes to fill out data tables) 

3-5 days to complete drawing

 

Materials (per group):  

1 Rubik’s cube  

1 Cube Critter handout <http://www.youcandothecube.com/downloads/math-lessons/Codons-Lesson.pdf>

1 Table of Traits <http://www.youcandothecube.com/downloads/math-lessons/Codons-Table-of-Traits.pdf>

Unlined paper 

Colored pencils, crayons, or markers 

 

Important notes: 

1) It's stated on the student handout but make sure to point out to the students that the center square on each side of the cube will never change spots and that’s how the faces are named. So when it says “yellow face” it is dealing with the side of the cube with a yellow center.  

 

2) If you haven’t covered it before this activity, it may help to explain how to use a codon table. Left side is the first base, top is the second base, right side shows the last base.  

 

3) The diagram at the bottom of the handout shows a way to look at the cube so everyone is using the same row for the same trait. It’s not absolutely necessary that everyone does this, it just helps drive the point home that even when reading everything the same way, odds are 

you’re going to have different traits. 

 

Information for students:

All of life as we know it is based off of DNA. Everything from the smallest and simplest organisms to the biggest and most complex creatures ever to live all begin with guanine, cytosine, adenine and thymine. To better understand the universal nature of DNA and to show how four things can create an almost infinite combination of traits, we are going to work with something most (if not all) of you are 

familiar with: the Rubik’s Cube. 

 

Despite being composed of only six colors and 20 moveable pieces, there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 unique combinations that can be made. To put that into perspective, if all 7 billion people alive on Earth today made the same number of combinations, with no one repeating those of anyone else, each person would need over 600 million cubes. For this reason alone, the Rubik’s Cube is perfect for our study of transcription and translation.  

 

On our cube, just like with DNA, we will have codons. In DNA, a codon is 3 bases read together and on our cube, a codon will be three squares, or one row of the cube. Each codon will code for an amino acid and in our simplified version, each amino acid will determine a trait. By the time you finish, you will have determined 18 individual traits for your organism and will then illustrate your newly designed 

critter.  

 

Procedure

1)   Scramble your Rubik’s Cube thoroughly 

 

2)   Place the cube with the yellow face on the top and the orange face facing you. 

 

3)   Beginning with the top left corner of the yellow face, record the arrangement of your cube in Data Table 1 (It may be helpful to write down both the color on the cube and the base in the area provided) 

 

4)   For each set of three bases, find the corresponding amino acid on the codon table 

 

5)   Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the orange and blue faces. 

 

6)   After getting your information for the yellow, orange and blue faces, flip your cube over so the white face is on top and green face is towards you.  

 

7)   Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the three remaining faces.  

 

8)   After filling in the amino acids for all traits, complete Data Table 2 by writing the amino acid for each trait from Data Table 1 into the appropriate box and matching the amino acid to the trait description.

 

9)   Once all trait descriptions are written, draw a quick sketch of what each trait will look like in your finished critter 

 

10) Draw and color a detailed image of your newly created critter on a separate sheet of paper, making sure to include all 18 of the traits in your drawing.  

 

source: http://www.youcandothecube.com/downloads/math-lessons/Codons-Lesson.pdf