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Building You From Moo:
Proteins from Plants to You by Way of a Moo!

Richard Benz
1994 Woodrow Wilson Collection



Teacher Information:

Introduction:

In this activity students will be given an envelope that will turn each of them into either a field of grass, or a dairy cow, or a famous person (only one type of organism per student). The object is to get the correct building blocks for proteins (amino acids) that are needed to grow. It is obvious that proteins that help plants (like grass) grow will be different than the proteins that the cow needs to grow, or the proteins that a person needs to grow. But nature IS amazing! The building blocks that make up plant proteins are the same as the building blocks that make up cow or person proteins. The only difference is the order or sequence of the building blocks. For example, the plant might need a protein that is built of amino acids (building blocks) A,B,C,D,E,F. But a cow protein might be made of the same building blocks but in the order B,C,A,F,E,D. Notice the protein can be made from plant building blocks if the plant protein is broken down (digested) and rearranged. Likewise, a person protein could be made from the cow protein if it is digested and rearranged into D,E,A,F,C,B. The building blocks are the same, they are simply rearranged. Animals (cows, humans, etc.) cannot make the building blocks, only plants can make them. We must get our building blocks by eating foods that contain proteins. We then digest them and rearrange the building blocks (amino acids).

The plant envelope will contain instructions for arranging the building blocks into a plant protein. It will also contain the necessary amino acids (colored strips of paper) since plants can make amino acids themselves. You need to have more plants than cows, and more cows than people.

The cow envelope will contain only the instructions for making a cow protein and no colored strips since cows must get their protein parts from the plants they eat. (A cow will have to "eat" more than one grass plant to get enough parts for its protein. Remember, cows eat all day long!) You may want to have three or four plants per cow.

The person envelope is like the cow envelope; it will only contain instructions for making a person protein. (People will have to find enough protein parts by drinking milk from many cows.)

The proteins will be assembled using a small piece of masking tape to hold the amino acids together. The tape will represent the bonds between amino acids. Energy is used to bond molecules together and to break them apart. The tape represents energy. (Be careful when breaking your building blocks apart-you do not want to damage the amino acids since they are reusable.) The student instructions include a sequence of DNA that codes for a specific amino acid sequence that is needed by each organism. The students will need to "denature" their food protein (separate the color strips), translate the given DNA sequence to the mRNA sequence and finally translate the mRNA to the correct amino acid sequence and synthesize the protein by connecting the new amino acids together.

Use the following table to code for the amino acid building blocks in this laboratory.

We will only use the codes and colors of 16 of the 20 amino acids in our lab. The names are the names of 16 of the 20 amino acids found in plant and animal proteins in various quantities and in different sequences (order).

Materials:

Colored construction paper (enough for each student to make 16 amino acid strips), scissors, masking tape, one brown envelope per student, student ID sheets (enough for each student to have one of the three forms).

*By the way, the sequence of the amino acids that make up proteins is what the DNA in our cells really codes for.

Student Form

You are a grass plant! You need to assemble the colored strips of paper into a protein. You will use the following information to make your protein. (Remember, you will need to "bond" your amino acids or building blocks with masking tape.)

The protein you will assemble will be made from amino acids in the following sequence. (Use the table to decode the letters into the correct mRNA codons and then into the correct amino acid color strips.) The following is the DNA sequence for the amino acid sequence you need to make. Put the correct mRNA below the given DNA codon.

DNA SEQUENCE OF NEEDED AMINO ACID SEQUENCE:

CCA-CGT-TAC-AAA-ACC-CCA-TAT-AAT-CAA-TCG- __________________________________________________________________________

ACG-TCT-CCA-CGT-GTT-ATG-GGG-TTC-GTA __________________________________________________________________________

Student Form

You are a COW! You need to assemble colored strips of paper into a protein. You will use the following information to make your protein. (Remember, you will need to "bond" your amino acids or building blocks with masking tape.) You cannot make amino acids so you will have to graze. You will have to find enough plant proteins to make a cow protein. (Don't be a hog, be a cow. Take only what you need.) The protein you will assemble will be made from amino acids in the following sequence. (Use the table to decode the letters into the correct mRNA codons and then into the correct amino acid color strips.) The following is the DNA sequence for the amino acid sequence you need to make. Put the correct mRNA below the given DNA codon.

DNA SEQUENCE OF NEEDED AMINO ACID SEQUENCE:

CCA-CAA-AAT-TAC-TAT-AAA-ACC-CCA-CAA-TCG-TCT-ATG-TTC-GTT- __________________________________________________________________________

AAA-ACC-CCA-TAT-CGT-GGG-TCG __________________________________________________________________________

Student Form

You are a FAMOUS PERSON! You need to assemble colored strips of paper into a protein. You will use the following information to make your protein. (Remember, you will need to "bond" your amino acids or building blocks with masking tape.) You cannot make amino acids so you will have to drink cow milk to get cow proteins to break down. You will have to find enough cow proteins to make a person protein. (Don't be a hog, be a person. Take only what you need.) The protein you will assemble will be made from amino acids in the following sequence. (Use the table to decode the letters into the correct mRNA codons and then into the correct amino acid color strips.) The following is the DNA sequence for the amino acid sequence you need to make. Put the correct mRNA below the given DNA codon.

DNA SEQUENCE OF NEEDED AMINO ACID SEQUENCE:

CCA-CGT-CAA-AAT-TAT-TAC-AAA-ACC-GGG-TCG-ATG-GTT-TTC-CCA- __________________________________________________________________________

TCT-TCT-GTT-ATG-TCG-GGG-ACC-AAA-TAC-TAT-CAA-CGT-CCA-TAT __________________________________________________________________________


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