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Polymerase

by Upward Bound students and Greg Crowther


Context

A polymerase is an enzyme that synthesizes DNA or RNA from individual nucleotides, using a DNA or RNA template. In Chuck Berry's "Maybellene," the title character drives off in a fast car after being unfaithful. In this parody (written with Upward Bound high school students in the summer of 2013), the polymerase (a.k.a. Polly) synthesizes DNA at a recklessly fast rate, causing her replication fidelity to be compromised.


Lyrics

CHORUS:
Polymerase, why canít you be true?
Polymerase, why canít you be true?
You keep making mistakes in the synthesis you do.

I saw a DNA strand growing in size;
Polly was there, adding nucleotides.
Fifty per second, thatís how she rolls;
This little girl is outta control!
Zipping down the template, such a fast pace,
Sooner or later she grabs the wrong base.

CHORUS

The strand is finished, but somethingís wrong;
Itís got an A where a C belongs.
A stop codon thatís premature --
Translation will stop short for sure.
The end result is lean and mean:
A mutated, truncated, bad protein!

CHORUS


Other Files

MP3 (by DNA's Child)

video


Lesson Plan

Songs like this one can be used during class meetings and/or in homework assignments. Either way, the song will be most impactful if students DO something with it, as opposed to just listening.

An initial, simple follow-up activity could be to answer the study questions below. A more extensive interaction with the song might entail (A) learning to sing it, using the audio file and/or sheet music as a guide, or (B) designing kinesthetic movements ("dance moves") to embody it. The latter activity should begin with students identifying the most important or most challenging content of the song, and deciding how to illustrate that particular content.


Study Questions

(1) In this song, is "Polly" a DNA polymerase or an RNA polymerase?

(2) Based on the information in the song, can you determine which stop codon was introduced by the mutation?

(3) Based on the information in the song, how long would it take a single polymerase enzyme to copy the human genome (3 billion base pairs)? Based on this calculation, do you think a cell replicating its DNA uses one copy of this enzyme, or many copies?

(Answers may be found on the answers page.)