SIS_2_2-37_RZ 10.07.

2006 10:32 Uhr Seite 24

Modelling
the DNA
double helix
using recycled
materials
Dionisios Karounias,
Evanthia Papanikolaou and
Athanasios Psarreas, from
Greece, describe their
innovative model of the
DNA double helix – using
empty bottles and cans!

Molecular structure of DNA
T his proj-
ect to
construct a 3D
The basic unit of DNA is the
nucleotide, consisting of a phosphate
group, a sugar molecule (deoxyribose)
model of a DNA and one of four nucleobases (also
molecule, using every- known as bases): adenine (A), thymine
day materials, stimulated (T), guanine (G) or cytosine (C). The
the students’ interest, encour- DNA molecule consists of successive
aged teamwork, dexterity and the nucleotides arranged in a double helix
investigation of the properties of mate- – a spiral ladder – the sides of which
rials, and allowed the students to are formed from sugar and phosphate
express their own opinions and solve groups, with each step consisting of a
problems. More specifically, students pair of bases. The base pairs are formed
learned the basic structural elements of from complementary nucleotides: ade-
DNA and their 3D molecular organisa- nine pairs with thymine, while guanine
tion. pairs with cytosine.

24 Science in School Issue 2 : Summer 2006 www.scienceinschool.org

est to the Sprite can. red and position 3’ represents the hydroxide Table 1: DNA molecular components yellow). (first the red. See below.scienceinschool. The final result Recycled materials geometry of the molecule as far as can be seen above right. Choose a the Sprite can (deoxyribose) through · 60 red caps from Coca Cola bottles suitable thickness of nail to enable the Coca Cola can (phosphate group). · 10 plastic Fanta® bottles (500 ml) the plastic drinking straws to pass with the top of the Coca Cola can clos- · 20 orange caps from Fanta bottles through the holes and fit firmly. Using the same nail. Firmly attach two caps. Base Plastic bottle Method using holes 3’ and 5’. The phosphate · a thin piece of paper or plastic. creat. Puncture four bottle caps (three · Thick nail for the making holes in plastic and aluminium red and one orange) in the centre. that will be connected to the next and the corresponding model materials nucleotide. the components are their abundance in the school recy. Tools 1. threading constituents (deoxyribose. Puncture the can in positions 1’.org Science in School Issue 2 : Summer 2006 25 .07. www.SIS_2_2-37_RZ 10. phosphate another red cap to the side of the Materials and base) are modelled. Deoxyribose Sprite® can · Two pieces of thin telephone cable. 3’ · Scalpel or sharp knife for cutting and 5’. First. 3. Next.2006 10:32 Uhr Seite 25 Teaching activities Phosphate O group O P =O O 5’ CH2 Base O C4’ H H C 1’ 3’ 2 H C C H OH H Deoxyribose 5’ A nucleotide 1’ 3’ The model Additional materials Deoxyribose Each of the three constituents of the · 6 m thin rope Deoxyribose is modelled with a nucleotide were represented with 3D · 20 plastic drinking straws Sprite can with three red bottle caps objects (see Table 1) which were con. approximately 1 m long. attach a red Phosphate group Coca Cola® can · Small pliers cap firmly in position 1’ so that a · Stapler bottle can be screwed on. Pass the straw through the can. each of the three nucleotide 6. reflecting the can in position 5’. to one end of a straw rope through the straws. Our choice of materials reflected possible. then the orange). · 20 aluminium Sprite® cans the bottle caps with the same nail. DNA molecule Model the plastic bottles 2. Fix the can to the straw. for passing the one orange. representing the carbon nected to form a double helix with ten bolts atoms at the 1’. which represents the phosphate · 20 plastic Coca Cola bottles (500 ml) Heating the nail will enable the caps group. left). green. · 4 sheets of coloured confectionery (above right). 4. puncture the · 20 aluminium Coca Cola® cans Puncture the aluminium cans and centre of the Coca Cola can base. Using a nut and bolt. ing a stable link between the structur. the DNA helix is constructed. group is now attached to the deoxyri- al elements. · 20 nuts and thin double-threaded attached. 5. 3’ and 5’ positions steps (base pairs). one red and molecule about 40 cm long. Thread the straw attached to to be more easily pierced. An orange bottle cap at cellophane (blue. assembled to form nucleotides and Phosphate group cling bins. bose in position 5’ (see page 26. as shown above .

facilitates not Complementary base pairs Place blue cellophane inside both only the separation of the DNA Next. connecting elements that represent the bases can model. These can then open to allow other low bottle (cytosine) along the inci. and 65 cm apart. attach and detachment of complementary the neck of another Coca Cola bottle. and also makes it easy to pass the thin coloured cellophane. Thymine (T) into the bottle cap (carbon) at position To maintain the correct scale between Place green cellophane in a Coca 1’ of a deoxyribose molecule. remove Place yellow cellophane in a Coca Attach the telephone cable to a) the neck. the structural For symmetry and the scale of the rope through both cans. we read the word Coca Cola coincides 26 Science in School Issue 2 : Summer 2006 www. can only be connected to their com. the Cola bottle without a base. through the straws of the nucleotides cutting 4 cm above the base Guanine (G). The two strands of incisions. This. To the DNA molecule are read in the the base of the third Coca Cola bottle. model this. plastic bottles representing parts. colour green. in turn. To construct two complementary this. bases. From the third Coca Cola bottle. cutting 10 cm below Cola bottle without a base. (incision b). Remove the base of two Coca Cola bottle. make five to six hydrogen bonds to cytosine (C).3 m long. each. For this reason.07. resented by the colour blue. the two pairs of linked com- the nucleotides into a molecule chain be created (see page 27).scienceinschool. represented by the tion of bases for teaching purposes. four different nucleotides (see page 28). To the base of a Fanta bottle. 2 cm long. Cytosine (C) nucleotides will be 2. In the model. distance from the base of the Coca This representation of the hydrogen Cola can to the orange cap should Adenine (A) bonds enables the easy connection be 23 cm. plementary bases should be 42 cm (see below). colour red. Constructing the DNA molecule and guanine to cytosine). cut two Fanta bottles and the green bottle without the base. direction 5’ to 3’ and are anti-parallel. Using these building blocks and the tle (guanine) to enter and lock firmly. open the base of the yel. upside down. the strand of 10 2. push the blue neck firmly into we can build a double helix with 10 base pairs. Guanine (G) end of the Coca Cola can (phosphate Take care! Place red cellophane in a Fanta group) to the orange cap (hydroxide 1. rep. Because the distance from the tion.org . it is long. represented by the to form two strands of molecules. rep. using the scalpel and scissors. To model Having constructed 20 nucleotides. linked with the next phosphate bottles (incision c above centre) group) is 23 cm. strands but also the change in posi- the bases are modelled so that they Thymine (T). forming the molecule and the model.SIS_2_2-37_RZ 10.2006 10:32 Uhr Seite 26 Phosphate group a b 5’ Deoxyribose 1’ c 3’ The straw connects the two cans. Each coloured bottle is screwed important not to bend the straw. Firmly approximately 3 m of the thin rope the mouth (incision a) and attach the base of another Coca Cola and use the stiff cable to pass the rope b) the lower part of the bottle. in the neck and resented by the colour yellow. the direction in which bottles in (see above right). hydrogen bonds to adenine (A). bottle. sions to allow the base of the red bot. is connected by three which are hung vertically 2 m high Using scissors. is connected by two plementary base (adenine to thymine. steps – two strands of 10 nucleotides three Coca Cola bottles in cross-sec.

that is. Using the model in class to top. Phase 1: Constructing the model ry to those on the opposite strand.65 m structural materials of the model with Helix step 3. www. 360 and in the other strand.SIS_2_2-37_RZ 10.org Science in School Issue 2 : Summer 2006 27 . We must also make sure that the The model represents a DNA bases on one strand are complementa. They asked a lot of ques- tions and had an intense and interest- Helix step: diameter 1.57 3.7 1. Our model DNA strands are The model was constructed and used thus also anti-parallel. bottom right). students aged 15 were DNA molecule Model given a worksheet where they recog- nised and matched the prepared Diameter 2 nm 0. entire human DNA molecule with our were involved in resolving practical If these criteria have been met. in so that a thin bar can be passed wrapping around Earth’s equator 16 one of the strands. Cola can be read from top to bottom the linked strands clockwise. the words Coca through the roll and used to twist times. Thus. capable of Phase 2: Representing a DNA molecule Table 2: Sizes and proportions of a DNA molecule and the model In the appropriate unit of their biol- ogy course. tie model.2006 10:32 Uhr Seite 27 Teaching activities with the direction 5’ to 3’. a paper roll at the end of each strand helix 640 000 km long. from bottom degrees (see page 28.4 nm 1.1 m those of the DNA molecule as illus- trated in their textbook. They com- Helix length 7.7 ing discussion.14 nm 2. Scale in three phases over one to two weeks. molecule at a scale of 320 000 000:1.scienceinschool. we would need a double problems. If we tried to represent an struction directions with interest and and cytosine opposite guanine. 320 million times bigger than Students aged 14 followed the con- Adenine should be opposite thymine it really is.07.30 m posed and twisted the double chain of Helix length: diameter 3.53 the model.

base (bottle) pair on the model (enzyme: DNA helicase). Group work could be designed so that activities give a 2D picture. with the help of bonds. UK 28 Science in School Issue 2 : Summer 2006 www. molecule 3. from the 6. performed the following 5.scienceinschool. This ingenious project model could be used as a teaching tool to demonstrate describes how a scale model of DNA can be made DNA replication. Beginning to create daughter In their free time and as a strands complementary to the theatre game. as students help the students appreciate the spatial relationship of REVIEW could recycle cans and bottles. Jigsaw puzzle-type biology lessons. Teaching the to cut the plastic bottles. the complementary bases. It would be easy to collect the chain reaction. Splitting hydrogen bonds between (DNA polymerase).org . the same 15-year-old parental strand (DNA polymerase). Splitting the rest of the hydrogen enzymes and. Students learn much more quickly and easily when nail to puncture the bottle tops and a sharp implement they are actively involved in the lesson. the components of the DNA molecule. the model. The fact that the model is to scale will materials required to make this model. I feel that stu- It may be a good idea for a technician or teacher to do dents will enjoy learning about DNA using this idea.07. be made in a design-technology class and then used in sentation of the molecule is used. The the shape of the molecule. students pretended to be suitable 4.SIS_2_2-37_RZ 10. the model could structure of DNA is made much easier if a 3D repre. Checking for possible errors and top of the molecule until the sixth correcting them if necessary. Creating daughter strands comple- steps: mentary to the parental strand 1. but it is difficult to visualise teams race each other to prepare a DNA model. Separating the two strands. some of the preparation work.2006 10:32 Uhr Seite 28 Phase 3: Copying a DNA 2. this would decrease the which means that the lesson will be both understood amount of time needed in the lesson as well as and remembered. Alternatively. addressing safety considerations with the use of a hot Shelley Goodman. either in mitosis or in the polymerase using cans and bottles.