All these sciences leverage the unique properties of the DNA molecule that can be used to build molecular structures and to encode and decode information using the A, C, G, T alphabet. The key is to think of DNA as both a message and a recipe. You can read a recipe like any other text. But if you also buy the ingredients and then follow what the recipe says then you are actually “building” something: a dish that can be served.
Here are some questions you might like to discuss with your children.
Q: How does a virus infect a cell?
Q: What is a bioengineered virus?
A: It’s a virus that is synthesized in a laboratory. Typically scientists start with a real virus found in nature. They study the virus in a safe environment inside a laboratory and then they try to modify some of its properties by manipulating the DNA code.
Q: Aren’t viruses supposed to be evil?
A: Viruses are typically labeled as “evil” or “harmful” because they can harm a human cell. However, if a virus is engineered it might have a positive effect on a human body. For example, scientists have engineered a virus that infects bacteria in the human body and prevents them from being resistant to antibiotics. This helps the human body recover faster from a bacterial infection.
Q: How is DannyBot a robot?
A: Not all robots are made from metal and wires. Nano-robots (also known as nanobots) are made from molecules like DNA. There is a whole field called Nanorobotics, which studies how we combine molecules into little machines. Check out this walking nanorobot for example:
Q: How can DannyBot read and decode DNA?
A: DannyBot does this using a method known as DNA sequencing, which is a fancy term for “figure out the sequence of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s in the DNA if we read it from start to end”. We know that A binds to T and C to G. So, the way to read the sequence of the A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s, is to try to bind to them with all possible letters in the DNA alphabet and see which one sticks. So if we use a T and we see that it binds to the DNA then we know that we have an A in the sequence.
So, here is an easy exercise for you: what will the DNA sequence be if we see that GAGAGAGA matches? (answer: CTCTCTCT).
Here is a video that explains this in detail (the video is advanced):
I hope we learned something useful today,