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Double (helix) the fun with this DNA activity

Middle/High School

What do CSI Miami, 23andMe, canola Oil, seedless watermelon, Dolly the sheep, and The Innocence Project have in common? They all rely on DNA science.

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and is one of the two types of nucleic acid found in cells along with RNA . We're all interested in what's in our DNA, the genetic code personalized to each of us. DNA fingerprinting is a molecular procedure that reveals DNA patterns unique to each individual. The results show up as a pattern of bands that can be matched against other samples.

This hands-on activity uses common household supplies to teach students a technique for extracting the genetic code that makes them who they are—a skill they'll want to under-STRAND.

All you’ll need are a few simple supplies that include a cup or glass, your favorite sports drink, Isopropyl alcohol, and some dish soap:

Download the full activity below, and keep reading to learn more about DNA.

What is DNA?

DNA is found in every living organism. It is the genetic material that tells the cells what to do. DNA is the boss, the head honcho, the rule maker. It gives cells instructions in the form of a series of  "codons,"  which are  three-block codes (there are 64 permutations of this code). Check out how viruses use their DNA to totally rule the cells they invade.

DNA is made up of nucleotides comprising A, T, G, and C (which stand for adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine). These are chemical bricks composed of a sugar, a nitrogenous base, and a phosphate molecule that build up the entire DNA structure.

Scientists use the term "double helix" to describe DNA's winding, two-stranded chemical structure. This shape - which looks much like a twisted ladder - gives DNA the power to pass along biological instructions with great precision—aye-aye, captain!


What is DNA fingerprinting, and how is it used?

DNA fingerprinting is a method used to identify an individual from a sample of DNA by looking at unique patterns in their DNA. The probability of having two people with the same DNA fingerprint that are not identical twins is very small.

The technique involves finding clues and piecing together a puzzle to solve scientific mysteries such a  forensics (crime scenes, suspect identification, body ID), parental testing, or genealogy.

So, ask your students to put their detective hats on and get started on this simple activity that will help them explore and develop their knowledge of DNA. You just may inspire someone to become part of a real-life CSI team or help find the perfect organ match for someone on the transplant list.


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