DNA, Protein, and tRNA
  • K-12 students learn how DNA works by assembling LEGO bricks
Lesson Overview

Unlike most teaching aids, the LEGO® brick models are designed to teach what the molecules do, not just what molecules look like. These LEGO brick molecules are made to be manipulated. Students can perform the cell functions of DNA replication, mRNA transcription and tRNA translation. Chains of amino acids can be produced and folded into working protein shapes.

Abstract molecular concepts become concrete with these LEGO brick models. Diverse populations including English language learners, middle schoolers, and AP biology students all have found the learning experience interesting and memorable. Read more about the learning center set.

This curriculum is posted on line for organizations that already have the DNA Learning Center Set. The set contains 14 kits of DNA made with LEGO bricks, 14 kits of Proteins made with LEGO bricks and 9 kits of tRNA made with LEGO bricks. These materials are in a pilot testing stage with MIT.

Note: The DNA Learning Center Set is currently not available. If you'd like to register your interest in this teaching tool, please fill out the survey. In order for us to improve our teaching materials, please fill out the required Feedback Report for Teachers Currently Using the DNA Learning Center Set. These teacher evaluation responses are required by the agencies funding the projects at MIT. Note that the Safari browser may not display the survey or feedback report. Please use Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer instead.

Instructional Videos

Movies for the DNA, Protein, and tRNA Curriculum Package can be found in the MIT TechTV Collection.

Teacher Resources

DNA, Protein, and tRNA Teacher's Guide - Draft Version
These lesson plans were created for the Boston Public Schools to fit into a four/five day sequence. The Teacher Guide does not utilize every LEGO activity. For example the activity, "Egg proteins into Muscle Proteins" in the Protein Booklet 1 pages 19-23 was not incorporated into these plans. Please check the booklets for additional activities.

The following four PowerPoint Documents will help teachers lead a class through the four lessons described in the Teacher Guide.


Documents (also found in the Teacher's Guide) for Managing LEGO Bricks Set Components

  •   DNA Content List: Replace this paper in the clear pocket on the outside of each storage carton
  •   Team Kit Care Form: Replace this paper in the clear pocket inside each plastic kit

Student Booklets and Laminates

The version date is May 2, 2011

The following is a list of the advanced level booklets with their version dates.

DNA/RNA Booklet 2: Advanced Topics in DNA

The Protein Booklet 2 is forthcoming. It will contain more secondary structure information, for example. We plan to create an Advanced topics in RNA Booklet and a Biotechnology Booklet.

Software Packages

Molecular Workbench Software

The Molecular Workbench Activity, "From DNA to Proteins and Protein Folding," is online at http://workbench.concord.org/database/activities/324.html.

A CD was distributed in the DNA Learning Center Set and the above link will take you to the same 11 interactive lessons about DNA and protein structure and how proteins are made. In this version, modified for MIT by the Concord Consortium, the colors on the screen will match the colors of the  nucleotides A, C, T, G. The colors of the amino acids made with LEGO bricks will also match. Having the colors of the models be consistent across all the different multimedia representations can be very helpful.

Star BioChem Software

  • Star BioChem is a tool developed at MIT for easy 3-D viewing of proteins from the Protein Data Bank. Use this program with advanced biology students to teach protein structure. Visit http://star.mit.edu/biochem/index.html to download the software for free.  The software user manual is online at http://star.mit.edu/biochem/documentation/index.html and is an excellent walk-through of all software tools.
  • Visit http://star.mit.edu/biochem/problemsets/index.html for many excellent worksheets on various protein topics, such as hemoglobin and sickle cell anemia, DNA glycosylases, and an introduction to basic macromolecules.  All worksheets guide students through use of the software from the beginning.
DNA Repair and Glycosylases
  • Introduction to Glycosylases
    Teacher Notes: This PowerPoint can be used as a standalone component. The PPT explains how DNA repair proteins prevent mutations from occurring by using a common example of 8 oxoguanine as the damaged nucleotide. It is recommended that teachers use the PPT to introduce the concept of DNA repair prior to working with the Star BioChem DNA glycosylase exercise below. This PPT was authored by Dr. Lourdes Aleman. Kindly credit the slides should you incorporate them into your own presentations.
  • DNA Glycosylase Exercise
    This is a sample exercise for the Star BioChem software above.  It guides students through use of the software by exploring the structure and function of a human DNA glycosylase in the process of repairing a damaged DNA base.  This exercise is appropriate for advanced high school biology students and undergraduate biology courses.
  • Additional Teacher Resources
    Additional teacher resources for this exercise.
Links to Related Environmental Health Science Lessons

Contact us if you would like to learn about our next teacher workshop in the evening (typically offered 4-6PM ).

LEGO®, the LEGO logo, and the brick and knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO group, used here with permission. ©The Lego Group and MIT. All rights reserved.