Friday, April 17, 2009

My recently developed hatred of high school biology

Having had the great fortune (or misfortune - opinions will vary) of never having had a single class in Biology during my entire scholastic career, it is with a cringing feeling of trepidation that I respond to the periodic "Egg has a biology project due." It invariably means that 1) she needs my help, and 2) the deadline is looming just over the horizon. Sure, I should welcome the opportunity to share in these projects with my beloved child, and I suppose I would if it were the case that I knew even the most rudimentary aspects of the science in question. But I don't. When faced with Biology projects, I endure the same sense of humiliating ignorance and befuddlement that poor Sir Hogarth suffers when I tax his limited mental acumen with such arcane commandments as "Don't eat the cat food!" and "Quit licking yourself."

So, as I'm sure you have already discerned, another project made its way over the threshold and was ungraciously plopped onto my shoulders a few days ago. I believe that it was Tuesday, a day that I still remember as having been not all that great to begin with, that I was unceremoniously informed that Egg and I would be availing ourselves of the mutual and unexpected opportunity to build a model of a double helix DNA strand. If you just thought (or said out loud) "A what??", you are in good company. That was my exact response. My second response, following only a second after the first, has been ingrained into my very being: "When is it due?"

Friday. Good. We have a couple of days to work on it. That was the good news. The bad news was that this looked to be far more difficult than the model of a cell that we had constructed just a few months ago. As always, my first response to these types of disasters is to see what the all-knowing Google can tell me:

The DNA-Helix

The sugar-phosphate backbone is on the outside and the four different bases are on the inside of the DNA molecule.

The two strands of the double helix are anti-parallel, which means that they run in opposite directions.

The sugar-phosphate backbone is on the outside of the helix, and the bases are on the inside. The backbone can be thought of as the sides of a ladder, whereas the bases in the middle form the rungs of the ladder.

Each rung is composed of two base pairs. Either an adenine-thymine pair that form a two-hydrogen bond together, or a cytosine-guanine pair that form a three-hydrogen bond. The base pairing is thus restricted.

Yeah, right. And to think that that is a simplified explanation. The unsimplified article on Wikipedia might has well have been written on Cyrillic Latin. In fact, I'm not convinced that it wasn't. Well, pictures being worth 1000 words and all, I hoped that graphic imagery would come to my aid. Huh, you be the judge:

Yeah. Not so much. Well, if I learned nothing at all from the cell project (and to be brutally honest, I didn't) I learned that I don't really have to understand the science to assist in building the model. The secret is that Google also has an Image search. All I needed to do was determine how other Dad's had mastered this crisis. Here's how that turned out:





Yes! Good news: easily made out of on-hand supplies from the pantry. Bad news: it was delicious!

Having failed with our attempt at having Google allow us to benefit from the labors of others, there was nothing left to do but go to Plan B: walk the aisles of Hobby Lobby looking for inspiration and the accompanying raw materials. I had a pretty good idea that the helix frame could be constructed out of dowel sticks, with a thick stick being drilling through around its circumference and smaller dowels being pushed through the holes to model those pesky base pairs. (What do you mean, "What are base pairs?" You did read the science stuff that I provided, right? You didn't just skim past that, did you?) What had be flummoxed was the question of how exactly we would model the sugar-phosphate backbone. (Oh, for crying out loud. Just go back and read it, why don't ya?) I was very concerned about how (and from what) we would cut out a helix and how it would be attached to the ends of the little dowels. That's some pretty tricky work!

Well, Egg solved that part of the problem. Her suggestion (and it was pure genius!) was to use pipe cleaners. The dowel sticks were easily found, the pipe cleaners took a little longer but were eventually located, and we found nice, cheap paint and brushes to use to differentiate the various pieces/parts of the DNA. Unlike the cell project, this one came in pretty cheap. I think it was slightly less than $8. I think the cell ended up costing more like $28.

From there it was all pretty easy. Egg did the measuring and cutting of the thin dowels, I did the cutting and drilling for the big dowel, and she took over from there. All in all, I think it turned out very well. She even made the painting part look pretty fun:

Now that is the definitive face of concentration, isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. That looks like fun! Great idea to use the dowel, I never would have thought of that. I love the photo. Thanks.