Create and decode a “DNA recipe” for a dog

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We study genetics to learn about how features, such as hair colour and height, are passed to us from our parents. Information about our traits is encoded in genes, which are short sections of DNA found in chromosomes in human cells. You may think of each gene as a recipe for how our body looks and functions.


Each human cell contains 46 chromosomes, which are arranged in 23 pairs, with one member of each pair inherited from each parent. These chromosomes carry genetic information from both our parents, which combine to determine our traits. Each gene is responsible for a specific task, for example your eye colour! Differences in the DNA sequence are what make us all different! Same applies to other animals and plants, which all have different numbers of chromosomes: garden peas have 14 chromosomes, whereas elephants have 56!


In the following activity we will attempt to create and decode a “DNA recipe” for a dog to see how variations in DNA lead to the inheritance of different traits. Follow the directions below to create a DNA recipe for a dog. Using the traits key, you can read your DNA recipe and make a drawing of your dog showing its traits!


What do you need? 

  • DNA Strips A-D (see link below). Ideally, each type should be different colour (e.g. A = blue, B = green, C = yellow, D = red). You should end up with 28 strips.
  • Dog traits key (see link below)
  • An envelope/box (somewhere to hide the DNA strips)
  • Drawing paper
  • Crayons/coloured pencils
  • Tape

How does it work?

  1. Put two DNA strips of each colour in an envelope. The envelope should contain 8 DNA strips (four different colours)
  2. Determine the first trait of your dog (body shape) by randomly picking out a piece of dog DNA out of the envelope
  3. Look at the symbols on the DNA strip you have chosen. Match the pattern to one you see on the dog traits key for body shape.
  4. Set this piece of DNA aside and repeat steps 2-3 for each of the traits listed on the dog traits key.
  5. Tape the DNA strips together as you pick them out of the envelope. This will become the DNA recipe for your dog!
  6. When you have finished, draw your dog with all its traits you decoded using the dog traits key on a separate piece of paper.


If someone else completed this activity with you, is your dog different or the same as theirs?


Link to the printable material: