60 years ago James Watson and Francis Crick were busy trying to figure out the structure of DNA. So to celebrate the anniversary I thought I'd come up with a series of DNA related activities.
Watson and Crick eventually worked it out the structure by building models of the molecule and comparing them to X-ray pictures collected by Rosalind Franklin.
Watson and Crick built their model from bits of lab equipment and other odds and ends. You can see just how cobbled together it is if you visit London's Science Museum. Which just goes to show that even Nobel prize winners use whatever they have to hand.
The model shows that DNA is made from two intertwined helices. Sort of like two corkscrew shapes wound around each other. Each helix is made from a backbone of sugar-like molecules bound to phosphates. Then each helix is zipped up to its partner via something called basepairs.
So what else could we use to build a model of DNA? How about K'Nex?
A load of these three K'nex peices (or similar)
These will represent the 3 main parts of DNA. The green pieces are going to be the sugars, the white bits are the phosphates and the blue ones are the base pairs.
To make 1 complete turn of K'nex DNA you'll need 14 green bits, 14 white and 7 blue bits.
1) Connect up the 3 green pieces with the 3 white pieces and then 3 green pieces with 4 white pieces, so you have two sections that look like this.
2) Add the blue pieces onto the green pieces, like so.
3) Here's the tricky bit. Connect up the blue pieces to the other section like this.
You should end up with a twisted bit of k'nex model that is starting to resemble the double helix of DNA.
4) Now just continue to build more of the same and link them together to form as long a strand of k'nex DNA as you can!
The model you've built isn't quite accurate but its still shows some of the important features of DNA. Most importantly it's a double helix and you might notice that it's also got grooves running around the double helix. One of these is narrower than the other. These are known as the minor and major grooves , DNA has them as well.
If you want to do more DNA related stuff with K'nex you can buy the official model kit or have a look at this great site from Mount Sinai University.