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Web Hunt: What's the Big Deal About DNA?

Frozen in Time

May 8, 2006
Julie Feinstein is a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History. She manages the Museum's Frozen Tissue Collection, which has room for a million DNA specimens. (Photo by Craig Chesek / AMNH)
Julie Feinstein is a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History. She manages the Museum's Frozen Tissue Collection, which has room for a million DNA specimens. (Photo by Craig Chesek / AMNH)

What’s so fascinating about a chemical that’s too tiny to see — even with a powerful microscope? Find out on this virtual trip to the American Museum of Natural History.

This handy sheet helps Web Hunt explorers keep track of what they learn about DNA:

Web Hunt Question Sheet (PDF)

Your friends have it. Daisies have it. Flying foxes have it. Even microscopic bacteria have it. And guess what? So do you! All living things have DNA — the chemical in an organism's cells that determines its inherited traits. It's the genetic code that makes you YOU!

  1. Describe what DNA looks like, or draw a picture in the space provided. What is a double helix? What do the letters A, T, C, and G stand for? Find out at Discovering DNA's Double Helix.
  2. Scientists are exploring the DNA of many organisms, including humans! Explain what the human genome is. Why do scientists want to study it? See the Human Genome Project, and click the three different questions.
  3. Scientists also study the DNA of animals, especially those that are endangered. Check out Around the World With DNA to see how scientists study animal DNA in different habitats across the globe. Compare and contrast the St. Vincent parrot and the pacu. Where does each animal live? Why is it endangered? How do scientists collect DNA for the animal? How do they use DNA to help protect the animal?
  4. In 1997, a special sheep named Dolly was introduced to the world. She was the first animal "clone" — an exact genetic copy of another sheep. Name two reasons why scientists would want to clone animals. Learn All About Cloning to find the answer. (Hint: be sure to click the little sheep, "Why Clone?")
  5. Today, scientists can change the DNA of organisms to produce plants or animals with desirable characteristics. Find out about some Genetically Modified Organisms. Describe why scientists would want to change how fast (or slow) organisms like salmon or grass grow. Do you think this should be done? Defend your answer.
  6. When scientists study an animal's DNA, the first step is to collect a sample from that animal, like a piece of its tissue, its shell, or even its dung! Then the sample is frozen so it's preserved for years to come for scientists to study. A single sample could be studied many times to answer a variety of different questions — including questions scientists may have far in the future. Check out What's This? to see a mystery photo from the American Museum of Natural History Frozen Tissue Lab. Can you identify the animal and its body part?

Find out more about the world's largest frozen tissue lab at the American Museum of Natural History in Frozen in Time. Discover why the lab's scientists are preserving tissue samples from all over the globe — including samples from fruit-eating bats!

Bonus Round: Cracking the Case With DNA

  1. Did you know DNA can be used to help solve crimes? Explain how DNA Detective George Amato used DNA to analyze handbags and shoes that arrived at a New York City airport. What did he discover about these items? (Hint: read all three parts of the story.)

  2. Sometimes crimes are solved using human DNA. Identify one item a detective might search for at a crime scene when trying to find DNA evidence. How is DNA like a fingerprint?


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