Secret Codon

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In this activity, "write" a secret message in genetic code as beads on a string. Learners use an amino acid codon table to determine the DNA sequences that correspond to the one-letter amino acid abbreviations that make up their secret word(s). Learners also use start and stop codons in their sequences and follow a color key for the bases. Learners can trade strands with a friend to see if they can decode their secret message.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Type:


Materials List (per student)

  • Pony beads (yellow, blue, red, green)
  • Cotton string
  • Amino acid codon table


  • Life Sciences
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • Human Genetics
      • DNA Structure and Function
      • Genetic Engineering
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Patterns
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Yu, Julie


  • All rights reserved, Exploratorium, 2008

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation, 0610238
  • National Science Foundation, 0925383