DNA to Protein

From DNA to Protein

Genetic disorders are traced back to DNA mutations. There any many types of mutations that lead to issues during cell protein creation. In this lesson, students will learn how DNA can affect proteins, discover the effects of a gene mutation, and learn about gene therapy as a treatment option.


100 minutes (two 50-minute sessions recommended)

Grade: 9-12 Grade


  • Students will be able to transcribe DNA into mRNA.
  • Students will be able to translate mRNA into proteins.
  • Students will be able to describe how DNA mutations can affect proteins.
  • Students will be able to describe the impacts of missing proteins on phenotype, as seen in Batten disease.


DNA mutations can cause genetic disorders. In this lesson, students will learn the effect of DNA mutations during protein synthesis. They will use this knowledge to diagnose and develop a treatment plan for a mock patient.



Begin with the From DNA to Protein slideshow.

Next, show the video “Finding a Diagnosis.”

Ask students to fill out the Mock Patient Chart with the symptoms they hear in the video. The goal of this lesson is to help students identify the underlying cause of Blake’s condition. On the patient chart, ask students to record the results of different tests that were performed on the patient.

Go through the following slides from the slideshow to discuss how DNA is transcribed into mRNA and then translated into protein. This can be skipped if students already understand protein synthesis.

Use the Transcription and Translation printable activity sheet to help students understand the basic process. This can be used during the lesson or be assigned outside of class. Ask students to break the DNA into codons and then transcribe the DNA into mRNA. Next, ask students to use the codon box to translate mRNA into a polypeptide. Once they have their amino acid code, ask them to look in the protein box and identify which protein they have encoded. Have them do a quick search to identify the function of this protein.

Answer: The protein is beta-globin. It is a subunit of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen for red blood cells.

Use the DNA Mutation worksheet to help students identify how different types of DNA mutations can affect the resulting proteins. Ask students to search and figure out which disease matches the clinical test results.

The symptoms of the patient are consistent with Batten disease. Show this video about the disease and gene therapy to learn more about the various types of Batten disease. Discuss the causes and symptoms of Batten disease. There is no cure, but it can be treated.

Discuss the two options for treatments. It may be useful to spend some extra time discussing gene therapy as it can raise many ethical questions. See the Medical Ethics lesson for more.

Learn More

Clinical trials for several types of Batten disease are currently underway. Learn more about these trials.

Learn about Batten disease research at Sanford Health here.

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Performance Expectations

HS-LS1-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
  • Engaging in argument from evidence.

Core Ideas

LS1-A From Molecules to Organisms: Structure and Function

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Cause and effect
  • Structure and function