Modeling DNA and RNA Structure with Gummy Bears

DNA and RNA Structure Worksheet
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This activity uses candy to allow students to assemble and then compare and contrast the DNA and RNA Structure. Students often find the structure of these tiny molecules hard to visualize, let alone remembering what constitutes an individual nucleotide! Allowing them to construct a physical model is an excellent way for your kinesthetic and visual learners to take this abstract concept and make it deliciously concrete!

What you will need:

  • Florist wire
  • Toothpicks
  • Candy (g., marshmallows, gummy bears, or other soft candy that comes in multiple colors)

The Activity:

  • Decide which candies will represent the 4 DNA bases, phosphate groups, and the sugar.
  • Give the students a base sequence to construct (or they can make up their own), using the base pairing rule.
  • Construct the DNA model using the toothpicks and florist wire as bonds to hold parts together, just like in the real DNA molecule (allow around 20 minutes depending on how well organized the students are).
  • Students can attempt to twist their model into a helical structure
  • Introduce a new color of gummy bear and a different (smaller) piece of candy to allow students to construct RNA based on the previous nucleotide base sequence they have used for the structure of one of their DNA strands.
  • Photograph (or sketch the models into their books)
  • Give students time to compare the structure of the two candy molecules and create a summary table of differences between the two molecules.

Extension Idea:

Introduce the idea of point (gene) mutations into the activity and get students talking about the effect of this in the molecule.

No candy? – No problem! Students can also use play-doh, modelling clay or even beads in the place of candy.

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