Paper DNA (Double Helix)




I enjoy tinkering with electronics, building useful things and recycling. I'm also an Eagle Scou...

This Instructable is entered in the "The Teacher" contest. Please vote for my instructable! -General Eggs

I made one of these for my Biology class. It doesn't take very long and it looks pretty cool in the end. The one I made for school is colored. I've also made another one without using tools. Any way, here's what you need:

1 sheet of 8.5" by 11" paper
A pencil
A ruler

This can actually be done with any size of paper. This works best when the width of the sheet is around 8- 9 inches.

This could be used as a fun, cheap way to teach about DNA. Students would learn about the structure of a DNA strand and about how  the four chemicals (Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, and Cytosine) combine in long complex structures to create the blueprints for what the cell makes.

NOTE: The DNA in the photos twists towards the left. As explained to me DNA actually spirals to the right. This is just a matter of which way you make your folds. Thanks to yardleydobon for pointing this out.

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Step 1: Mark It Down the Middle

Mark the paper down the middle. On a standard sheet of paper that's 4 1/4".

Step 2: Marking Out the Sugar- Phosphate Backbone.

Make one line 3/8" from each edge and do the same on either side of the middle line. This creates the Sugar Phosphate Backbone of the DNA.

Step 3: Marking Out Each Nitrogenus Base

Now, use your ruler to make a line every inch down the line. make sure these are even or it won't turn out right.

Then make a line across each rectangle you just made. The lines on each side should point inward like a "V". As you can see, I accidentally did this wrong in the picture.

If you want to color it, this is the step to do it. Just split each rectangle in half and color each according to the Nitrogenus base.

Remember: Adenine -> Thymine and Guanine->Cytosine

To color the back bone, split each section on the sides and middle across the middle and alternate black and white.

Step 4: Fold It in Half

Pretty straightforward.

Step 5: Fold the Backbone

Using the lines on each side, fold one up and the other down.

Step 6: Starting the Nitrogenus Bases.

Using the lines as a guide fold each of the rectangles back. It should now curl up into a little tube on it's own.

Step 7: Flip It Over

You should have no trouble doing this.

Step 8: Fold the Diagonals

Fold back on each diagonal line. Only fold inside of the rectangle. It should now twist into a spiral.

Step 9: Collapse the DNA

Starting at the top gently collapse the entire thing. Try not to crush it! Then pinch it together and make sure all of the folds are creased.

Step 10: Let Go!

Let go of the compressed DNA strand. Congratulations! You just finished! 

Step 11: A Little About DNA

For people who don't know all that much about DNA:

    DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid. It resides inside the nucleolus, which is in the nucleus of Eukaryotic Cells. In Prokaryotic Cells DNA free floats due to the cell's lack of a membrane. It is the blueprints to the many things a cell creates. Each section of DNA is called a nucleotide. A nucleotide is made of one phosphate molecule, one deoxyribose sugar molecule and one nitrogenus base. There are four types of nitrogenus bases. Thymine, Adenine, Guanine and Cytosine. Thymine only bonds with Adenine. Cytosine only bonds with Guanine. The specific order of Nitrogenus bases determines what the strand creates. The deoxyribose sugar and the phosphate create the sugar-phosphate backbone. The reason DNA twists is because of how the 3 components in a nucleotide bonds. Nothing in nature is usually perfect, and the 3 components must warp to be able to create a bond. 

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    24 Discussions


    6 weeks ago

    Very good instructions! And a very good idea to understand with the students the structure of DNA.


    Question 1 year ago

    I got stuck on step 9, 'Collaps the DNA' I did not feel you clearly explained that you were meant to twist the ends.

    This video someone else linked does a good job of showing it.

    edit: I used A3 sized printing paper, and found that the paper doesnt look like it folds in properly, but i got it to work after a few tries.

    This would look pretty cool if you cut out some small gaps within each triangle after folding.


    Question 1 year ago on Step 7

    For step number 7, What do you mean? Is it an aerial flip? A layout? A pike? Maybe even a tuck? Plus each one of the flips I listed before can be preform in multiple different ways. Please explain this very difficult step that you didn't explain before.

    1 answer

    Answer 1 year ago

    In the step 6 picture it is curling down towards the table. I believe step 7 is just telling you to turn it over so that it is curving up.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I have an easy fix for that. Don't download it. Do it straight off whatever device you looked it up on, or just copy and paste it over to word and print it out...


    Reply 1 year ago

    Teachers get free pro memberships! Look for a message from the site's robot account with a free code to upgrade your account so you can download this instructable in pdf form. I'll send you that right now. Cheers! :)

    The lego girl

    3 years ago

    This is really cool
    I did it ??
    Thank you so much for giving us this awesome science craft!

    Parshant A

    3 years ago

    Unable to do last step


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is really neat! It would be even better if you included a PDF of the pattern already laid out. Just draw it out, scan it directly as a PDF, and include it in one of the steps.

    (I include PDF patterns with some of my instructables, and people really respond well to it. Just a thought!)

    5 replies
    General Eggsseamster

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The PDFs are easy to find on the internet. I was just trying to do it without a template because so many people make tutorials about using a template.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I happen to know that General Eggs is left handed. This could have contributed to this. Still it's a cool project!

    oops... the way it twists really just depends on the way you make your folds, but thanks for pointing that out!