Introduction to Genome Browser: What is a Gene?

By Joyce Stamm

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Genes encode information that our cells use to carry out their functions. In particular, protein-coding genes provide the cell with the information to make messenger RNAs (mRNAs), which are then used to make proteins. In this  module, we will use a web-based visualization tool called a Genome  Browser to explore the structure of a eukaryotic gene, and obtain a basic understanding of how this information is stored and used. In subsequent modules, you will learn more about the details of these biological processes, and use the Genome Browser to examine the experimental data that provide evidence for a detailed gene structure. The protein-coding genes in eukaryotes (higher organisms,with a cell nucleus) are much more complex than the protein-coding genes in prokaryotes (bacteria, organisms without a nucleus). We are still trying to figure out all of the details


  • Demonstrate basic skills in using the UCSC Genome Browser to navigate to a genomic region and to control the display settings for different evidence tracks.
  • Explain the relationships among DNA, pre-mRNA, mRNA, and protein.
Pre-requisite knowledge
  • DNA structure (base composition, anti-parallel double-stranded helix, base-pairing properties)
  • Chromosome structure (a chromosome is a continuous DNA molecule, basic understanding of chromosome arms)
  • Protein structure (proteins are made up of amino acids)
Course structure
  • Warm up
  • Investigation 
  • Exit
Class Instruction
  • Discuss the question: What is a gene? (Discuss with a partner, then as a class.) Emphasize the function of a gene; consider how the structure of the gene is related to its function.
  • Work through the genome browser investigation, with pauses to discuss the answers to the questions.
  • Conclude with an emphasis on the main points:
  • Genes may run in either direction on a chromosome;
  • Genes are represented on the genome browser as blocks connected by lines;
  • Eukaryotic genes are made up of protein-coding exons (the blocks) connected by introns;
  • Proteins usually begin with a Methionine (M) and end at a stop codon (*)
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Joyce Stamm (2018), "Introduction to Genome Browser: What is a Gene?,"

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