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Coronavirus bracelet

By David, 1 May 2020 Activity

Colourful beaded bracelet worn on an arm.

We’re going to use the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 to make a bracelet.

Here’s a fun, creative project that will help you explore some of the science around the virus SARS-CoV-2. That’s the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. We’re going to make a bracelet using the genetic sequence of the virus!
sharp hazard iconSafety: To do this activity, you’ll need to cut and bend wire, which may be hard for younger readers. Ask an adult to help.

You will need

  • Memory wire (available from selected craft stores or online)
  • Wire clippers
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Beads in four colours
  • Paper
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Computer with internet access

What to do

Cracking the code

  1. We’re going to use the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 to make a bracelet. The first step is finding a copy of that code. The NCBI keeps more than 1000 sequences on their GenBank site: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genbank/sars-cov-2-seqs
  2. Look at the ‘Nucleotide Sequences’ section and choose any sequence.
  3. Click on the FASTA link at the top, or scroll down the page until you find section labelled ‘ORIGIN’. There will be a big block of text that includes the letters a, c, g and t. This is the text you’re looking for!

Building the bracelet

  1. Four bowls of coloured beads labeled A, C, G, & T.There are four letters in the sequence, and you should have four bead colours. Pick one colour to represent each of the letters a, c, g and t. Jot down a note matching each colour to a letter, so you remember which is which.
  2. Pliers cutting memory wire.Use the wire clippers to cut off a coil of memory wire that’s about five loops long. If it’s tough, ask an adult to help.
  3. Pliers bending memory wire.Bend a loop in one end of the wire with needle-nosed pliers. Adjust the bend so that the end of the wire won’t scratch or catch on anything.
  4. Cut a strip of paper about 15 centimetres long and about 5 centimetres wide. Fold it in half so the crease runs along the paper, and then in half again, the same way. Unfold the paper and re-crease it so the folds make an M shape. This tray will help you keep your letters in order.
  5. Coloured beads lined up in a row.Look at the virus genome sequence you’ve selected and find beads that match the first 10 letters of code. Arrange them in the crease of the paper you just folded.
  6. Threading a coloured bead onto the wire.Carefully thread each bead onto the wire, and then wind them down to the loop at the end.
  7. Spell out the next batch of 10 letters in beads on the paper tray and then thread them on too. Keep adding groups of 10 until you only have a few centimetres of wire left.
  8. Bending the wire with pliers.To stop the beds falling off, bend the end of the wire into a loop with needle-nosed pliers.
  9. Using pliers to cut the wire bracelet end.Trim the end of the wire with wire clippers so it doesn’t poke or scratch.
  10. Adjust the bend to make sure the end of the wire doesn’t scratch or catch on anything.
  11. colourful beased bracelet worn on a wrist.Enjoy your new bracelet!

What’s happening?

In this activity you’re creating a wearable model of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence.

A complete sequence, like the one you selected from GenBank, is very long and contains a lot of information! This is known as a genome.

You’ll only be able to recreate a small portion of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in your bracelet, as it’s around
30 000 letters long. The human genome is even longer with more than three billion letters!

Real-life science

Scientists have only known about SARS-CoV-2 for a few months, but they’ve already discovered a lot about this virus.

The main component of a virus is its genetic code. Already, scientists have identified sections of SARS-CoV-2 code that helps the virus hijack cells to produce even more of the virus. Some of the code helps create bubbles for new virus parts to form in. They’ve even found sections that help the virus better replicate (or reproduce), like using a cookie cutter rather than cutting out a rough shape in cookie dough.

Learning more about this virus will help scientists find ways to treat the disease, and aid in developing vaccines to prevent infections in the first place.

 


Where’s the uracil?

If you’ve studied high school biology, you might have noticed something a bit strange about the letters in the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2.

The genetic material in a coronavirus is stored in RNA. This chemical has four bases, usually written g, u, a and c. However, genetic sequences on GenBank use the DNA letters: a, c, g and t.

There’s a good reason why scientists are using DNA bases instead of RNA bases. In order to read RNA, scientists can use a chemical process called reverse transcriptase to rewrite the code in DNA. They then can use sequencing machines that only read DNA to decode the information of the viral RNA.
 


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