Remix, Remake, Curate

Learning with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Tar River Writing Project, & The Poetry Project

Welcome to Make Cycle 3: The Codes of Life

Welcome to Week 3 of our second year of Remix, Remake, Curate!  For the next two weeks, we will explore DNA.  We will focus on DNA coding, which allows for the massive storage of information on a cellular level.  It can be surprising to discover how much data, or information, is stored in our own bodies. You will get a chance to extract DNA , a technique used by scientists who work with DNA regularly (such as crime lab technicians).

As with the last make cycle in this MOOC, you are welcome to join in where you can, tackle the makes that appeal to you, get out of your comfort zone and try something new, or show off skills you already have.

Make with me

During this make cycle, we suggest the following activities to guide an investigation of DNA.

Learn from the experts.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive DNA Resource Collection includes a wealth of resources, but for general background about DNA and its discovery, check out the short film The Double Helix:

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center includes a site dedicated to information about genetic disorders, and a series of  tutorials and games about the structure of DNA.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center also provides links to interactive resources about DNA, including information about the Human Genome Project:

Part 1: DNA Extraction

In the video below, Deb Bailey and Christy Flint, of the NC Museum of Natural Science’s Micro World Investigation Lab, walk us through the process of extracting DNA from strawberries. You can extract DNA from all kinds of living things – wheat, strawberries, and bananas are among the easiest.

If you’d like a written walk-through of the process, that’s available here. Show us what the DNA you extracted looks like by sharing a picture of your results through a tweet or post on our Google+ community.

If you would like to try a more challenging extraction, follow the directions in this YouTube video produced by NOVA to a very, very small amount of your own DNA by using a scraping from the inside of your cheek.  Don’t forget to share your results or some more ideas by posting them on our Google+ community. To learn more about the DNA molecule, check out this DNA Factsheet from the National Institute of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute.

Part 2: Extracted Poem

The process of extracting DNA from strawberries is much like the process of pulling a found poem from longer text. Check out these found, or extracted, poems on Pinterest – some of them are creating interesting images (as well as using interesting imagery).

As you examine these poems, consider the following questions:

  • How do you think the authors of these poems are deciding what words to keep?
  • How do the words they choose express a theme or central idea?
  • What strategies can we borrow from the authors of these poems?
  • In what ways do the images drawn on the page reflect the central idea of the poem?
  • What images might we use to reflect our ideas about DNA?

We invite you to create your own found poems using articles about DNA coding (for articles, check out the Resources section below). You can print paper copies of the articles to work with, or you can use digital tools to make a found poem by taking screenshots of the articles and using a drawing or image application, like MS Paint, GIMP, Pixlr, PicMonkey, Finger Draw, or You Doodle to isolate text and create an overlaying image. We’re pretty sure you know of some tools that we’re not aware of yet, and can’t wait to see what you use to make your found poems. If you find a new tool, make sure you share it in our Google + community.

Part 3: DNA Coding

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 12.08.21 PMYour DNA houses the information that made you, that shaped your development and continues to shape your interactions with the world around you on a biological level – those instructions are complex, and there’s a multitude of information in each cell of our bodies. In order to be stored in such a small space, that information gets encoded (much like the information stored in our computers is encoded, represented by 1s and 0s).

Despite being made up of only four different nucleotide bases (Adenine, Thymine, Guanine and Cytosine), the fact that individual DNA molecules can be made up of thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions of bases results in the almost incalculable number of possible arrangements of A’s and T’s and G’s and C’s. Due to its versatility, scientists are now beginning to explore using DNA as a storage medium, translating data into DNA code and recording entire books in fragments of DNA.

To decode the information stored in a cell’s DNA, the cell must first transcribe the DNA into a molecule called RNA (ribonucleic acid). The RNA then gets translated into a protein, which is made up of a sequence of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids and proteins are made up of unique combinations of these amino acid building blocks. Amino acids are coded for by sequences of three DNA or RNA nucleotide bases, known as codons. There are 64 possible codons, so some amino acids are coded for by more than one codon.

You can experiment with using this kind of coding by translating your name into DNA online or with paper and pencil. You can post comments to our Google+ community in DNA code, and read others’ comments by copying them and translating them back to plain text. For further exploration, check out this Transcription and Translation Tool to translate RNA, DNA, and proteins. If you want a low-tech, paper and pencil version of the code, we also have one of those. See what the text of your found poem looks like in DNA code, or write a new poem and publish it in DNA code – the possibilities are endless! Be sure you share your DNA-coded writing in our Google+ community.

Part 4: Collaborative DNA Poems/Sculptures

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For our collaborative DNA Poems/ Sculptures, you’ll work with others  to write and assemble a poem that will serve as a three-dimensional model of DNA. Materials like sentence strips, dowel rods, cardboard, hot glue guns, duct tape, or any other materials you can think of will prove useful here.

Step 1: Punnett Squares

Trey Gass, of the Poetry Project, walks us through this step in the video below.

You may also want to use our Punnett Square template.

Step 2: Making Base Pairs

If you don’t have access to sentence strips, card stock, index cards, or chart paper can also work.

Step 3: Codons and DNA Models

Part of the fun is collaborating to make the model stand on it’s own – we can’t wait to see the solutions you engineer for your own poems!

We’ll continue posting links to articles, resources and other materials throughout the make cycle, so be on the lookout for more information in our Google+ community.

Materials and Inspirations

  • Camera or phone
  • Computer with internet connectivity
  • DNA Extraction:
    • One zipper-style sandwich bag
    • ¼ cup water
    • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
    • ¼ teaspoon unseasoned meat tenderizer
    • 1 teaspoon Lemon Joy liquid dish soap
    • 1 fresh, ripe strawberry or one frozen strawberry (allow enough time to thaw a bit) or one 2-inch piece of ripe banana or 1 teaspoon raw wheat germ
    • One 9-oz clear plastic cup (or any clear container that will hold at least 1 cup)
    • One spoon
    • 2 tablespoons of cold 91% Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) – keep in freezer until needed
    • One paperclip, unbent into the shape of a hook
    • If extracting strawberry DNA:
      • an extra 9-oz cup to collect strawberry pulp
    • If extracting banana DNA:
      • One coffee filter
      • One funnel (or one rubber band and an extra 9-oz cup with a large hole in the bottom)
  • Articles for found poems:
  • Web resources for DNA coding:
  • Collaborative DNA model/poem:
    • Directions
    • Sentence strips
    • Cardboard
    • Dowel or other bracing support

Places to Share and Live Events

These are some of the handy links and places we’ve been using to share and connect.

  • In Google Plus (G+), we hope you have all joined our Remix, Remake, Curate G+ community
  • On Twitter, we encourage you to follow and use the #imakesci.
  • If you have a blog, you can make and create in your own digital space and share to the community on twitter with the #imakesci hashtag or the G+ community

Want to know more about DNA coding? Join us on Friday, April 8 at 12:30 pm EST as we are hosting a Google Hangout to explore DNA coding with Dr. Christy Flint, coordinator of the Micro World Investigate Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

We would also like to invite you to join us for a Twitter Chat throughout the day on Tuesday, April 12 (9:15-9:30; 10:45-11:00; 12:30-12:45; 2:00-2:15) where we will be writing a collaborative DNA-themed poem.

New to all this tech?  Check out Getting Started with Google Hangouts in the Guide to Social Tools section of the TRWPConnect blog.

For More Info


We hope you delight in using what you have learned about DNA extraction and coding, and we hope you enjoy coding your own DNA poems.


Make Cycle 3 Facilitators,

Christy Flint, Trey Gass, and Jennifer Smyth

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