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Gems of life: DNA jewelry

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‘Genetic jewelry’ has surfaced from a classroom project in the shape of a DNA earring. To more effectively understand the structure of DNA, biology students create a sparkling double helix from glass beads and a piece of string. The jewelry model was developed in 1994 by biology teachers Joyce Roderick and Thomas Atkins.

‘Genetic jewelry’

Different glass beads in yellow, red, green, and blue symbolize the four bases in DNA—Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine. They are connected together like two strands of beads lying side-by-side: Yellow and red for A and T form one base pair, and green and blue for C and G form the other.

The backbone of the earring is made of silver and gold glass beads symbolizing the alternating sugar and phosphate molecules of the DNA spiral. When all glass beads are aligned, the two strings are twisted to simulate a three-dimensional model of the double helix.

An earring representing the complete set of human DNA would be about three billion base pairs long.

"The purpose of the model is to help students develop a basic understanding of the structure and function of the DNA molecule," say Roderick and Atkins. The instructions for making the DNA jewelry are posted on the Web here

Birgit Reinert

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