How to build a DNA model using pipe cleaners

Updated November 21, 2016

If you are studying DNA in school, you will probably be asked to make a model of it at some point. Because the basic structure of DNA looks like a twisted ladder made up of unique rungs, you can easily make your own DNA model out of everyday materials. By using different coloured pipe cleaners to represent the four basic chemicals, adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine, and pasta to represent the sugar and phosphate components, you can make your own DNA model at home with little effort.

Cut two lengths of fishing line 24 inches each. These will be the sides of your ladder and hold the sugar and phosphate components of your DNA model.

Feed 17 pieces of pasta onto each fishing line strand. Use ziti pasta to represent the sugar components and pinwheel pasta to represent the phosphate component. You will need nine pieces of ziti and eight pieces of pinwheel pasta per fishing line strand. Tie the ends of the fishing wire around the last piece of pasta on each strand to keep the pasta from sliding off. Alternate the pastas just like DNA alternates the sugar and phosphate components. If you prefer not to use pasta, you can use different coloured beads.

Choose four colours of pipe cleaner. Each colour will represent a different basic chemical of DNA. For example, you can use green for adenine, red for guanine, yellow for cytosine and blue for thymine. Cut the pipe cleaners in 4-inch pieces, using scissors. You will need three pieces of each colour.

Twist the ends of the cut pipe cleaner strips together in pairs. The pairs should be made up of adenine and guanine or cytosine and thymine. When completed, you will have six pairs of pipe cleaner in total.

Line the two strands of pasta and fishing wire up so they are parallel. Attach the pipe cleaner pairs in between the pasta strands to create the rungs. Space the rungs evenly. The pairs can put together in any order you would like to create your own unique DNA sequence.

Twist the completed model to create a twisted ladder that resembles a corkscrew.

Things You'll Need

  • Fishing line
  • Ziti pasta
  • Pinwheel pasta
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Scissors
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