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Building blocks of life: former Bradford student designs Lego model of DNA structure and discovery 


Prototype Lego DNA set designed by former student Daniel Khosravinia

‘My intention was to honour Rosalind Franklin and inspire young people to become interested in science,’ says student 

A former University of Bradford student has designed a Lego DNA set he hopes will be put into production by the firm.

Lego DNA contains the detailed DNA structure, two labs and four scientists as Lego people with the aim of inspiring more young people to take up science and honouring the scientists. 

Daniel Khosravinia studied Study Biomedical Sciences for a year before transferring to King’s College London to be nearer to his family but the 20-year-old left a lasting impression, helping instigate an innovative peer-led learning programme with Dr Lijun Shang, named ‘Student-led Lectures’, which enables students to deliver lectures to their peers, increasing class active learning and improving student independent study skills. 

Having already graduated from King’s College with a first (and being ranked among the top four in his cohort), the budding scientist says he was inspired by the history of the discovery of DNA to design it out of Lego. 

“I’ve always played with Lego,” says Daniel, who is now studying a second degree in medicine. “I had 20 or more sets when I was young and even today, I still get excited when they bring a new one out. 

“I have a lot of fond memories of Bradford, I absolutely love the city. Moving to King’s meant I became aware of the incredible history behind the discovery of DNA and I knew Lego had an Ideas webpage, where fans can submit their designs, so I set about designing a Lego DNA set on my computer.” 

His idea is one of several listed on the Lego Ideas website and currently has just over 6,500 votes - it needs to reach 10,000 to be considered by Lego to become an actual, official set. 

The detailed DNA structure is based in between the two scientific labs, and the four scientists included as Lego people are those credited with the discovery of the DNA structure, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, James Watson, and Francis Crick. The labs, the Franklin-Wilkins lab and the Watson-Crick lab, contain instruments such as replicas of camera microscopes used to take DNA sample images, like the famous Photo 51, which is also included in the Lego set. 

Daniel, who has already co-authored an academic paper, added he also wanted to draw attention to the role played by Rosalind Franklin, who importantly supervised the taking of Photo 51 among other contributions, which provided crucial evidence for the breakthrough. 

For those of a scientific bent, Daniel described his design in technical detail: “The structure is a double helix spanning one complete turn; the sugar-phosphate backbone is positioned on the outside of the helices, while the bases are on the inside. There is approximately a 36° turn per base pair. Complementary base pairs (AT and CG) are paired together, with two hydrogen bonds linking AT, and three bonds linking CG. Purines (A and G) are double-ringed, and pyrimidines (T and C) are single-ringed. Different colors are used for each base in the model as well. The entire structure comprises 12 bases that code for a tripeptide (MDK) and a stop codon.”