Sanja Basaric of NHGRI's Policy Program Analysis Branch helps string beads representing DNA's A T C and G's in the right order at NIH's Children's Inn.
The double helical structure of DNA and readouts of its nucleotides (A,C, T, G) have been the focus of many pieces of modern art, from sculptures to paintings to interpretive dance. There's something beautiful about DNA and the unique order of its letters.
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) employees recently paid a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Children's Inn to show patients, their family members and Children's Inn staff how to make their own piece of modern art — a DNA bracelet, as part of this month's National DNA Day activities.
The NIH Children's Inn hosts patients and family members while they are at NIH for medical appointments and treatments. They offer a variety of activities for these special guests on a daily basis.
Dr. Toby Horn (right) demonstrates how to string A T C G beads in the order of a specific genome sequence.
Carla Easter, Ph.D., NHGRI Education and Community Involvement Branch, organized the event and arranged a visit from Toby Horn, Ph.D., Carnegie Academy for Science Education at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C., who created the DNA bracelet activity. Dr. Horn is a recipient of a 2010 National DNA Day Award.
The bracelet activity is part of Dr. Horn's educational program, "Beading Into Bioinformatics," which familiarizes participants with the four nucleotide bases that make up DNA: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). Participants make the bracelets to get a taste of the process scientists use to analyze and interpret genetic information. The colorful bracelet reminds them of what they learned.
A Children's Inn guest uses Dr. Horn's guide for stringing each bead in a specific genomic sequence.
For the visit to the Inn, Dr. Horn kept it simple and entertaining. Each Inn guest started with a handout containing hundreds of base pairs of DNA sequence. Each sequence represented a biological component such as a gene or protein from one of three animals: the mitochondria of a white blood cell from the Serengeti lion genome sequence; a milk protein from the dog genome sequence; and a red blood cell gene in the wooly mammoth genome sequence.
NHGRI staff teamed up with participants to familiarize them with DNA and its four-letter code. The participants then chose four colorful beads and assigned each color to either A, T, C or G. Then, they chose 18 letters of sequence. If the first letter was A, they would put the corresponding color of bead on the bracelet. They continued this until they had 18 beads on their unique bracelet.
NHGRI staff and Children's Inn guests complete their DNA bracelets.
"It's a fun way to get young kids and parents to learn about DNA," said Dr. Horn. "It's kind of like a word search and the bracelet gives them something to remember it all by."
Other NHGRI staff in attendance were Sanja Basaric, Policy Program Analysis Branch, Maggie Bartlett, Communications and Public Liaison Branch (CPLB), Michelle Hamlet, Ph.D., Division of Intramural Research Training Office, Geoffrey Spencer, CPLB and Dawn Wayman, Social and Behavioral Research Branch.