Inside DNA

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In this activity (on pages 34-39), learners make a fairly detailed model of DNA using licorice and gumdrops. The sugar and phosphate backbone of DNA is represented by alternating red and black licorice, and the base pairs are represented by gumdrops arranged so that gumdrop colors are paired. After a pair of learners have made a DNA section, they find another team and link them up to make a model of a gene. They then split the model and "copy" it using the base pair rules from earlier, comparing their copy to the original to see if there are any differences (mutations).

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Model

English, Spanish

Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 sets of 6 black licorice pieces, 1 cm (1/2 in)
  • 2 sets of 6 red licorice pieces, 2 cm (1 in)
  • 2 sets of 6 gumdrops (any 3 color pairs)
  • 2 sets of six 16-cm (6-in) pieces of bead sculpture wire or pipe cleaners
  • 2 sets of 6 toothpicks
  • scissors
  • cm ruler
  • colored pencils or crayons (that match the gumdrop colors)


  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
      • Cell Structure and Function
      • Cell Division
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • Human Genetics
      • DNA Structure and Function
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemistry of Life

Informal Categories

  • Food and Cooking


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities

Designed specifically for

  • Rural dweller

Culture, ethnicity, and gender

  • Girls

    • Explicity developed for this group


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Science After School Consumer's Guide


  • All rights reserved, University of Nebraska State Museum and Nebraska 4-H, 2002

Funding Sources:

  • NSF Informal Science Education Program, 9909496
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute