An explanation of how the genetic code was cracked with an interactive game that allows students to apply their understanding. The Genetic code game is a flash-based game that teaches the codons used in protein translation. The game is a version of Tic-Tac-Toe where you have 45 seconds to determine which amino acid a particular three base codon would code for. The board is set up in the same manner as a standard genetic code table, with each square having a specific three letter codon. to enter your mark in a square you have to use a pull-down menu to give the correct amino acid for that square. It is a large board and five markers in a row are needed to win. Players can play the computer or other users that are online, and the program maintains a history and ranks the skill level of players. Educationally there are links to the basic process of translation, some history about the cracking of the code, and players can see a description of one of the experiments and analyze the results to determine the identity of one codon to get access to the "Book of Life," which is a codon table that can be used to answer the questions in the game. The "Book of Life" gives the codes in three different ways, organized by amino acid, codon, or a novel "codon wheel."
Type of Material:
As a supplementary exercise to increase student familiarity with the genetic code
Identify Major Learning Goals:
Learn how translation works and the identity of the different codons.
Target Student Population:
High school and undergraduate
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Evaluation and Observation
Playing the game once or twice will teach the basics of the genetic code and how to read a codon table
Students who play for a while will learn some of the codons
Includes well written background material on the basic process of translation and the history
of "Cracking the Code"
Has an exercise where students get an explanation about artificial RNA templates and "in vitro" translation and how this was used to "crack the code"
Students get to analyze data from an experiment to find the match between one codon and its amino acid
Experimental results are incorrect as they show only one major amino acid being incorporated for each triplet template, but in reality their would be three different amino acids incorporated, as there is no "start' codon. The correct result would be confusing for students, but providing an incorrect result is not the way to deal with this problem.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
Explanations are clear and relevant.
Students who do the exercise to get the "Book of Life" will learn some details about the experiment
The interactive game is challenging and at least as fun as "Connect Four," and better than tic-tac-toe, so some students would enjoy this, while learning
at the same time
Students can compete against the computer or other students.
Students don't need to investigate the experiment or analyze the experimental results as they can just buy the "Book of Life" with 200 game "points"
Will be most effective at teaching the identity of some codons, which is not that important a topic, while they don't use a normal codon table, which is important - instead using a "codon wheel" or tables that are not commonly available
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Has a good help function with explanations for how to play the game
Controls are easy to use
The "Book of Life" requires some scrolling for the tables which can waste precious time, it is actually easier to look up a normal codon table or find one in a textbook and use that instead