Build a DNA Model

Have your kids learned about DNA? Do they ask questions about why they look a certain way? How they have the same hair as their mom? Or why some flowers are purple and others are pink? DNA is a complex topic, but there is a way we can teach kids, even at a young age, about these important building blocks of life. Today we are learning all about DNA and will build a DNA model that will bring it all into focus!

A Sweet DNA Model

DNA Model created with Candy and toothpicks

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What is DNA?

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is the framework that carries all of the information that makes us who we are. Everything from how we look to how we function is stored in those twisted little strands. So let’s zoom in and learn all about this amazing structure!

Every living thing on earth from a tiny flower to a giant tree, or a little bug to an elephant to you and me is made up of DNA. It is what carries our genetic information from generation to generation.

If you’ve ever heard someone say – “Wow you look so much like your Uncle Bob” – that is DNA at work.

Where is DNA found?

Every living thing is made of millions of cells. Zoom into the center of each cell and you will find a nucleus. Take a little deeper dive into that nucleus and you will find Chromosomes which are parts of the cell that contain genes – genes are segments of DNA that help determine things like the color of your eyes or the texture of your hair. Genes are passed from generation to generation.

So we go into the cell – then the nucleus – then the chromosomes and then genes and finally the root DNA. Think of that DNA as the big boss – it tells all of the cells what to do and how to do it all the time!

What is DNA made of?

Let’s check out the DNA structure a little closer. DNA is made of components called nucleotides. Each nucleotide is made of sugar phosphate bonds and nitrogen bases. There are four types of these bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C).

We can think of it like a computer code, but where computer code consists of zeros and ones DNA code consists of those four letters A,T,G and C and the different sequences of code help determine the function of the cell. The codes are super specific – each code bond is like a bestie- you will only see A&T together and only G&C together. They will flip places and sequence differently down the ladder but they will always be besties.

What Shape is DNA?

If you look at a strand of DNA it looks like a tiny twisted ladder known as a double helix. Double meaning two and helix – meaning a spiral chain. The side rails of those ladders are sugar and phosphates (AKA sugar phosphate backbone) and the ladder rungs are the base bonds (besties).

DNA double helix twist shape created with candy

In order for the genes to be passed down through generations, DNA must replicate or copy itself so that new cells can have the same exact instructions as the original. Sometimes while cells are replicating there can be a mutation. A mutation is a change in the genetic code sequence that will permanently alter the nucleotide sequence. Sometimes a mutation is subtle like a change in eye color but sometimes it can result in a disease such as cystic fibrosis.

DNA structure, like anything else is easier for littles to understand when they can get their hands on something. In this simple and sweet project we will build a double helix DNA strand to kids can look up close at all of the parts and pieces of DNA.

How to Make a Sweet DNA Model

Supplies

What do we need?

Twizzlers – we opted for the fruity rainbow twists they seemed a little more flexible than the traditional strawberry twists.

Dots – any gumdrops or gummies would work – we liked the bright colors and they weren’t as messy as the traditional gumdrops with the sugar coating. You could also try gummy bears, Skittles, Starburst or Mike & Ike (any candy with at least 4 colors and that you could stick a toothpick into will work).

Toothpicks

DNA Model Printable

This is a fantastic classroom project. To help with doing this project with your students, we have a free printable template to keep everyone organized as they build their DNA models. This printable is available to all members of the STEAM Powered Family mailing list.

Directions

How do we build it?

The first step in building your DNA model is to choose your twizzlers for the ladder hand rails – choose two pieces of the same color.

Next, you will need to assign a colored candy to each of your nitrogen bases, adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). Make separate piles of each of your four colors. Take note of which color you assign to each base.

Building a DNA model with candy

Then you want to build your bestie bonds. Remember, A&T will go together and G&C will go together. Use toothpicks to make the bestie bonds. Leave a little toothpick showing on each side of the bond so you can attach your helix pieces later. Set the bonds aside as you go.

Once all of your bonds have been made line them up one on top of the other like ladder rungs. Then you can attach your twizzlers on either side of the bonds to form your ladder.

Once everything is in place you can carefully pick up your ladder and gently twist it around to see what the double helix structure will look like.

DNA models created with twizzlers and gumdrops

That’s all there is to it! A sweet, colorful DNA model that will let the littles easily visualize what DNA looks like! Have an amazing time!

Want to know more about DNA? Learn how to Extract Strawberry DNA

Strawberry DNA Extraction Lab

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DNA Model project using candy