Students learn how molecular shape determines RNA function and explore how RNA is central to life in this media-rich lesson plan from NOVA Labs. The lesson begins with a class discussion about the similarities and differences between RNA and DNA. Next, students watch a video about the versatility of RNA. Students then use the NOVA RNA VirtuaLab game (requires the Flash player plug-in to be installed on computers or a Web browser that supports Flash, such as Chrome) to explore the diverse functions that RNA performs in the cell. In the game, students complete RNA folding puzzles in which they play the role of a molecular engineer who must build RNA molecules out of nucleotides. The puzzles are organized in four trials: the tutorial, protein synthesis, the RNA world hypothesis, and viruses. While completing the levels of the game, students answer content-specific questions. They conclude the lesson with video quizzes that review the content presented in the game.
Approximately three 1-hour class periods
Students will be able to:
- Explain how molecular shape and folding determine RNA function
- Describe the pattern and strength of nucleotide bonding in RNA molecules
- Describe the roles that RNA plays in protein synthesis, the origin of life, and evolution
- Summarize the process of viral replication and how some organisms fight invading viruses
Students will be able to:
- Use a systematic process to design models of RNA molecules
- Model the impact of a proposed RNA molecule in a cellular environment
Prep for Teachers
- Watch the four video clips in the RNA VirtuaLab game and then complete the game.
- Make printouts of the RNA Lab Review Questions for distribution to each student or working group.
- Computers with Internet access and Flash installed on the computer or supported by a Web browser, such as Chrome
- RNA Lab Review Questions PDF
- The RNA Enigma video
- RNA VirtuaLab Game
Introductory Activity: 20 minutes
Explain to students that they will be exploring the diverse roles that RNA plays in the cell through a puzzle game.
Class Discussion: Have students examine side-by-side images of DNA and RNA. Ask them to compare their structures. Emphasize the differences between the structures and ask students to point out how those differences may impact the function of the molecules.
- What role does genetic material like DNA play in cell development?
- What is the obvious structural difference between DNA and RNA?
- Do you notice any differences in the nucleotides?
- What is the fundamental relationship between structure and function in biology?
Video: Have students watch The RNA Enigma. After watching the video, discuss the following:
- Describe specific examples of RNA’s diverse role in the cell.
- Explain the relationship between RNA’s diverse structures and functions.
- Describe potential future applications of RNA molecules in medicine.
Learning Activity: 2 hours (1 hour and 30 minutes for game play, 30 minutes to answer review questions)
Explain that students will be working alone or in groups to complete the RNA Lab VirtuaLab game at their own pace.
Set up students on computers and direct them to the RNA VirtuaLab game. Make sure that they are all logged into their NOVA RNA Lab accounts. Students must create an account for the NOVA RNA Lab so that their progress can be saved, or use a guest pass for their session.
Instruct students to play through each trial of the game and to answer the RNA Lab Review Questions (PDF available in the For Teachers section of the Support Materials) before moving on. Encourage students to use the RNA Wiki tab in the game to answer the questions; the wiki provides text that accompanies each level in the game. The RNA Wiki is located at the top right of the menu page of the RNA VirtuaLab game.
Culminating Activity: 15 minutes
- After students have completed the RNA VirtuaLab game and answered all the review questions, instruct them to complete the RNA Video Quizzes as their exit slip or homework assignment.
- Have students submit a Lab Report to indicate their completion of the video quizzes. To access the Lab Report, click “My Lab Report” in the upper right-hand corner, and under RNA Lab, click "Lab Report HTML." Instruct students to print out the Lab Report.
- If you have time, your students can also work on the Extension Activity, which is included under Support Materials.