What is DNA? - Cartoon Notes

DNA is a molecule. It’s a bunch of atoms stuck together. In the case of DNA, these atoms combine to form the shape of a long spiralling ladder.

Draw a DNA spiral ladder:

Amino acids are tiny little chemicals inside our bodies that are so important, they’re often referred to as the building blocks of life.   There’s about 20 different kinds of amino acids that humans need, each with their own unique shape.    The neat thing about them, is they can be attached to each other kind of like legos to produce an endless variety of larger particles known as proteins.  

Draw an actual Amino Acid

Draw Amino Acids (boxes) connecting to make proteins (chain of amino acids)

Amino acids make up ___________________.

__________________combine to make living cells.

Cells make up _________________________.

________________make up organs.

Organs form living creatures like you and me.

These proteins that make up our bodies have to be formed in the perfect shape in order to function. If they’re the wrong shape, they don’t work. DNAs main function is to tell amino acids how to line up and form themselves into specific protein shapes.

Show that the DNA ladder is made of 4 kinds of chemicals (nucleic acids) by coloring them different colors.

Adenine pairs with _____________________

Guanine pairs with _____________________

If you look at just one side of the molecule, you can actually read its chemical code (or genetic sequence).

What is the code in the molecule on the left?

A single DNA strand is millions of letters long. For most of its life, it’s coiled up like a noodle and lives inside the nucleus or the centerpiece of a cell. Amino acids live outside the nucleus in what’s called the Cytoplasm.

To help DNA interact with the cytoplasm and create those proteins, special chemicals inside the nucleus make partial copies of the DNA code.  These new copies called RNA look just like DNA but they’re shorter and they’re missing one of their sides.  Their small shape and size allows them to pass through tiny pores in the nucleus out to the cytoplasm and into the Ribosome.  

Draw a strand of RNA:

Ribosomes are protein building machines.  They complete the following steps:

  1. “read” the RNA in 3 letter blocks called CODONs (each letter really represents the nitrogen base in a larger nucleotide molecule)
  2. “grab” the amino acids (out of the surrounding cell) that match those 3 letter RNA blocks
  3. “Glue” together several amino acids until the DNA/RNA code signals to stop

Chains of amino acids grow, bend, fold and stick to themselves to form a perfectly shaped protein.  Every 3 letters of the RNA letters (a codon) tell the ribosome which of the 20 different kinds of amino acids should be added next.  Once a protein is built, it can then go on to do a number of different things.

Complete the following table to show the steps of building a protein (protein synthesis).




   Show work here

DNA code 

(this represents just one side/strand of two strands)

TAC            CCA            CTG         GTA           GGA            ACT

mRNA code


tRNA code




(i.e. START)