Transcription Explained with a Gastronomic Connection

Once upon a time, in my earlier life, I was the only white server in a Chinese restaurant run by Hispanics (that didn’t speak English let alone Chinese).  I tell you this because it gives you the foundation of explaining protein synthesis.

Many times students confuse the terms Transduction, Translation, and Transcription.  This story is used to explain Transcription vs. Translation.  We will assume that the customer entering the restaurant is “DNA”.  DNA comes in and wishes to place an order.  DNA sits down and opens the menu (the unwinding which exposes the gene).

I, messenger RNA, come over to take the order.  When DNA tells me what it wants (Chicken with cashews with extra onions), I copy down the order (Transcription).  The act of me writing it down means that I am “Transcribing” DNA’s order from the triplet of information:  (Chicken, cashews, extra onions) to my codon of information: (Cx, nuts, eo).  Both pieces of information mean the same thing, but my information will be interpreted by the computer more directly.

Now when I start to input the information into the computer, it had a language program already installed.  The computer could take the information that I put in and “Translate” it into Spanish (anti-codon).  By changing the language, the Hispanic cook staff (the ribosomes) could interpret what it was the DNA wanted by converting it into the language they understood and therefore create what it was DNA wanted in the first place.

In short, this is a change from a nitrogen based language of mRNA to the amino acid language of a synthesized protein. Bottom line:  it’s all about how the cell communicates.

Jennifer Menon, MA
Assistant Professor of Physiology
Johnson Community College

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