We demonstrated various aspects of DNA packaging and the effects of DNA mutations to many members of the public.
How is DNA packaged?
In this activity, participants were given two pipe cleaners twisted together (to mimic DNA) and pieces of plastic resembling cotton reels (to mimic structures in the cell made of proteins called nucleosomes). The challenge was to try to increase the compaction of the DNA by wrapping it around the nucleosomes – making a structure called chromatin, which is how DNA is packaged and organised in the cell.
What happens when DNA is mutated?
DNA contains the information necessary for life. The four bases of DNA - A, T, C and G - are arranged in a specific order so that they code for messages. These messages contain the instructions for building units, called proteins, which make up and maintain an organism such as a human. In this activity, we have a section of DNA that codes for a message. Participants first needed to decode the DNA to work out what the message was. The order of the DNA was then changed or mutated and this affected the meaning of the coded message. As the DNA acquired more and more mutations, the message became meaningless.
DNA mutations that result in losing the meaning of the instructions that control important biological processes, such as when a cell divides, increase the risk of getting cancer.
Thanks to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics for sharing the concept behind this activity.
A huge thank you goes to Marketa Tomkova, Ruoshi Peng, Ying Bi, Svanhild Nornes, Wenjun Huang, Mirvat Surakhy, Jingyi Ma and Richard Lisle for volunteering.