Posted by: woodforthetrees | March 20, 2010

DNA night with the Guides

To celebrate National Science and Engineering Week, I ran a DNA night for 10th Harpenden Guides. (Girl Guides are known as Girl Scouts in other countries). I thought explaining DNA base-pairing to 30 10-15 year olds on a Friday evening might be hard work but it wasn’t: the Guides thought it was a brilliant night – and so did I.

Most of the activities were inspired by Duncan Hull’s O’Really? blog, describing the European Bioinformatics Institute’s activities at the recent Cambridge Science Festival.

We started with a warm-up activity drawing portaits of themselves, their mum and their dad. From this we could talk about inheritance – that if both you and your mum have blue eyes, but your dad doesn’t, chances are you get your blue eyes from your mum.

Then we moved onto DNA origami. The best tip I can give you is to make sure that you do the lines as sharply as you can, otherwise it makes the folding difficult at the end. The result is pretty impressive and really shows the helical shape.

We did some DNA sequencing using beads next. The forward direction for the sequence was quite simple, but doing the reverse sequence was quite hard to explain but it was worth perservering with because it made the next activity easier.

Midget gem DNA was the highlight of the evening. This was a variation on yummy gummy DNA owing to a lack of gummy bears! Midget gems worked out cheaper anyway. I was very impressed. We kept this until last because there is nothing like sweets to motivate young people, plus the two earlier activities lay the groundwork for this as they already understood how to pair the bases (or pair different colour gems in this case) and they knew the shape they were trying to twist it into at the end.

The whole thing lasted an hour and a half, and all the girls we really absorbed in the tasks.

Now… I need your protein structure activities for next year!



  1. Hi Maria, it looks like you all had lots of fun, and I’m glad you were able to put the resources to good use. The people at The Sanger tell me that more materials will be appearing at in the future, so if you’re looking for additional activities, they might come in handy.

  2. Thanks for your comment Duncan. It never fails to suprise me what teenagers will enjoy. I’ll definitely keep an eye open for the new activities. I loved the top trumps ones on your flickr page and I’ve been wondering whether it’s feasible to do one with proteins… size of the protein, resolution of any crystal structure etc.

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