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The Sound of DNA

Musical Gene Expression

Co Authors:

Janet A. De Souza-Hart
School of Arts & Sciences
MCPHS University

Joseph DeMasi
School of Arts and Sciences
MCPHS University


The steps involved in transcription and translation can be difficult for students to comprehend. Relating popular culture references (such as song titles) to protein sequences can help students understand the conversion of DNA and RNA information to proteins. In this case study, music is used as an avenue for students to approach the processes of converting genetic sequence into protein sequence. Music is also used to highlight mutations in a sequence, as is the case with an example using Huntington disease. This directed case study is designed for a first-year introductory biology course or high school course that covers gene expression. Students should be familiar with some basic biochemistry (what amino acids and nucleotides are, what enzymes do, etc.) and the structure of open reading frames, codons, and basic knowledge of transcription and translation in preparation for this activity.

  • Describe the basic principles of how genetic information flows from DNA to RNA to protein, as an introduction to the processes of transcription and translation.
  • Describe the different types of point mutations and assess their impact on protein sequence.
  • Use a DNA sequence to find a complementary mRNA sequence (transcription) and then a protein sequence (translation); then reverse this process to highlight the redundancy of the genetic code and apply an understanding of gene expression.
  • Define basic terms used in gene expression such as codon and peptide.
  • Describe the genetic basis for Huntington disease.
Keywords: Gene expression; transcription; translation; mutation; DNA; RNA; protein; music
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Directed
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Genetics / Heredity   Molecular Biology  
Date Posted: 10/30/2018
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Supplemental Materials

The audio file of the huntingtin "song" below is needed to complete Part I of the case study handout.

  dna_sound.mp3 (~1.6MB)

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