Have you ever wondered what makes our bodies function?

Proteins are the molecules behind it all. Without them, our bodies wouldn't be able to function.

Our bodies generate proteins through an amazing process known as protein synthesis, which begins with DNA, the molecules for life. DNA produces RNA through transcription, which later directs protein building in a process known as translation.

These simple diagrams and analogies will help you understand how this complex process works. An animation depicting the steps of protein synthesis from DNA to RNA to protein.

Stages and Components of Protein Synthesis

Imagine you're building a house. 🏠

You wouldn't just pile bricks on top of each other without a plan. The key step to a construction process is to plan your building. Your body needs a plan, too. That's where protein synthesis comes into play, and it starts with DNA.

While proteins are important, it's the DNA that provides your body with the blueprint for making proteins. Here's a simpler breakdown of stages in protein synthesis.

Stage 1: Transcription

The stage where DNA is converted to its RNA copy: DNA ➡️ RNA

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Stage 2: Translation

The stage where RNA is converted to a protein: RNA ➡️ Protein

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  • Blueprint: The DNA is like the architect holding the master blueprint with instructions to build a protein. 🗞️

  • Working copy: Messenger RNA (mRNA) is the working copy of instructions made from the DNA. 📃

  • Construction site: The proteins are built at sites called ribosomes in the cytoplasm. 🚧

  • Materials and workers: The materials are amino acids, and the workers are transfer RNA (tRNA).👷‍♂️

Become Familiar with Vocabulary

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DNA: Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid

  • Double-stranded molecule

  • The genetic material passed on to you from your parents

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mRNA: Messenger Ribo Nucleic Acid

  • Single-stranded molecule

  • Type of RNA made from DNA which acts like a messenger to carry instructions

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tRNA: Transfer RNA

  • Type of RNA that carries amino acids to ribosomes

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RNA Polymerase

  • An enzyme responsible for copying DNA into RNA 

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Pre mRNA

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  • The long chain of amino acids

  • A chain of the building blocks of proteins

Transcription: Generating a workable copy of DNA blueprint

A simple diagram for the steps in the transcription process of protein synthesis. Created by the author using Canva

Now your body is in the pre-construction process — planning to build the protein.

Transcription is the process of creating RNA copies of the DNA information. Here is a simple breakdown:

  1. Site 🚧

    The nucleus of the cell is the site where the workable copy of the blueprint is created.

  2. Starting point 🟢

    Every gene has a starting point on DNA called a promoter, where the enzyme RNA polymerase attaches and separates the strand.

  3. Copying the blueprint 📸

    The enzyme RNA polymerase functions as a copier, creating an RNA strand using DNA as a template.

  4. Endpoint 🛑

    The enzyme continues this process until it reaches a region called the terminator.

  5. Copy of the plan 📃

    The first RNA copy, called pre-mRNA, is created.

  6. Workable copy 📰

    The copy of the building plan, the pre-mRNA is modified to a workable copy, the mature mRNA.

Translation: Building the Protein

A simple diagram for steps in translation process of protein synthesis. Created by the author using Canva

Now you're in the actual construction process — building your protein house.

  1. Preparing the site. 🏗️

    Ribosomes assemble on the mRNA molecule.

  2. Reading the blueprint. 📖

    Transfer RNA (tRNA) reads the information encoded in mRNA. tRNA molecules operate as adaptors. One end can read mRNA and the other end connects to a specific amino acid.

  3. Building the house. 🏠

    Each tRNA transports an amino acid to its matching mRNA codon. The amino acids get added one by one to form a long string known as a polypeptide. This process continues until the STOP codons appear.

A Cooking Recipe Analogy for Protein Synthesis

Now let's try one more analogy.👇

A cutting board, frying pan, mortar & pestle, knives, spices, salt, and fruits on a table. How about comparing protein synthesis to a cooking recipe? Let's see if you could relate to the following steps:

  • DNA: the cookbook contains all of the protein-making recipes. 📔

  • Transcription: copying the recipe. 📇

    The step involves copying down a recipe from a cookbook, similar to creating an mRNA copy from DNA. mRNA is a working copy similar to a recipe card taken to the kitchen. 📰

  • Translation: cooking the dish. 👩‍🍳

    The ribosome is the chef who reads the mRNA recipe. tRNA, the cook's helpers, carry the ingredients, which are amino acids to the ribosomes.👨‍🍳

    Ribosomes build amino acids into polypeptide chains, which form the finished dish, protein 🍪


Nancy's friend has a book full of various recipes. She wants to use one specific recipe but can't take the book home. So, she decides to copy down the recipe she needs. Considering this as an analogy for protein synthesis, which step is Nancy in?

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