High school

Protein function, transcription, translation, blood cells

Last Updated Dec 1, 2020

This unit will introduce students to the genetic disease, sickle cell anemia.  Students will analyze and develop questions about the disease while looking at blood smear for healthy and sickle patients.  Throughout the unit, students will analyze pieces of evidence (collected and provided data sets) to answer their questions and eventually come to understand the mechanism of sickle cell anemia.

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Learning Objectives

Students will know

  • Amino acids and protein structures
  • Transcription and translation
  • Function of red blood cells

Students will understand

  • How changes in DNA lead to phenotypic outcomes and diseases
  • The symptoms and mechanism of sickle cell anemia

Students will be able to

  • Ask scientific questions about images of two provided blood smears
  • Interpret data about the blood cell counts for both of the provided samples
  • Demonstrate how a change in DNA causes a change to the protein it codes for
  • Use a model of hemoglobin to assess how a change to an amino acid affects protein function
  • Conduct an investigation to determine how blood cell shape can affect blood flow
  • Construct an explanation based on evidence for why sickled red blood cells differ from normal red blood cells
Standards Alignments + Connections

Next Generation Science Standards Connections

HS-LS1-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Connections

B.6A: identify components of DNA, identify how information for specifying the traits of an organism is carried in the DNA, and examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA

B.6E: identify and illustrate changes in DNA and evaluate the significance of these changes


Italics denote aspects of the standard not covered in the activity bundle.


Introductory Phenomenon

Students are introduced to these two blood smears and develop initial questions.


Sample 1                                                                       Sample 2


Questions may include:

Why are there more red blood cells in sample 1 than in sample 2?

Why are there more white blood cells in sample 2 than in sample 1?

Why are there red blood cells that aren’t circles in sample 2?

Activities to Gather Evidence

Learning about the Patient

Students are provided a patient description for Patient 2.  This will give students insight into the symptoms the patient is experiencing. 

Learning Types of Blood Cells and Functions

Students watch the Macmillan Cancer Support video “What are blood cells?” (1:40) to learn about the function of red blood cells.  Students are asked what new questions they have about the patient after gathering this information.

Analyzing the Difference Between Cell Counts for Healthy and Sickle Patients

Students are given blood count data about the samples.  Students are asked to analyze data comparing sickle patients to controls.  Students then provide a diagnosis for Patient 2.

Understanding Hemoglobin: From Gene to Protein

Students view how normal and sickle hemoglobin respond to electrophoresis to understand how structural change affects the protein charge.

Students examine the genetic sequence for 2 different types of hemoglobin.  Students transcribe and translate each sequence to determine how the sequence change results in a change in charge.

Students view the structure of the hemoglobin for both types using a computer model.

Understanding How Sickling Effects Red Blood Cell Function

Students will be able to test the effects of this new shape at home using different shaped candies and racing them through tubes of different diameters.

Students will view SCDSilentDamage.com’s video “Impact of Hemoglobin S Polymerization on sickle cell disease morbidity” (until 2:11) to learn more about how sickling damages the cells and causes hemolysis

For advanced students: Students will analyze evidence regarding the sickling shape of RBC in regard to oxygen levels.

Conclusion Assessment

Students must construct a claim backed up by evidence and reasoning to answer the following question:

The Mystery of the Crooked Cell was written by Donald A. DeRosa and B. Leslie Wolfe and adapted by Learning Undefeated