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5 minutes with Daniel Khosravinia: Lego DNA

Love getting imaginative with Lego bricks? Daniel Khosravinia, a soon-to-be second year student on King’s Medicine MBBS degree, considers himself a Lego enthusiast and indeed, one of his cool creations could be on its way to becoming an official Lego product. We took 5 minutes with Daniel to learn more about his DNA Double Helix model and his motivation behind designing the piece.

Daniel Khosravinia

What is your course/year of study?

I am studying Medicine and I have just finished my first year, although this is my second degree at King’s. I first completed a BSc in Biomedical Science before this, where I become one of the top four students in the cohort.

Have you always had an interest in building/designing?

My model – Lego DNA – started when I was in my second year studying Biomedical Science, although I have always been a huge fan of Lego. I have had more than 15 different sets with my favourite themes being Star Wars and Creator.

A few years ago, I discovered the Lego Ideas platform which made me consider building and designing Lego more seriously. Lego Ideas is an official website by the Lego company itself where fans can submit their own original designs for consideration as a real official Lego set. This would then be made available like all other normal Lego sets around the world.

Once a user submits a design, it needs to be supported by 10,000 people before it enters the review. Reviews take place three times a year, where every Lego Ideas design that has reached 10,000 supporters is considered by a ‘Lego Review Board’ composed of designers, product managers, and other key team members. The review process can take several months and at the end, the board will announce whether or not a certain design has been successful.

Results of the review of Lego DNA will be announced in September.

What was your inspiration in creating the model? How did you come about this project?

The main inspiration for the project came when I learned more about the history of the DNA structure discovery at King’s. Throughout high school biology, I learned the basics of the DNA structure and the history of its discovery, however, I had not heard or learnt much about Rosalind Franklin who provided crucial experimental evidence for this important discovery. Lego DNA therefore aims to honour Rosalind Franklin and help increase her and other scientists’ recognition amongst the general public.

The second aim of creating the model was to encourage people, especially young individuals, to become more interested in science, and to possibly consider a scientific career. If Lego DNA can influence a single person to consider a scientific career, I would consider that to be phenomenal.

There are very limited science-based Lego sets available, with almost none involving genetics or molecular biology, so Lego DNA is a potential first!

Tell us more about the process of creating the model?

Planning the model, researching the DNA structure and history of its discovery, as well as the actual designing took approximately four weeks. Promoting the project and reaching 10,000 supporters took close to two years.

As I didn’t have all the pieces required in the set, I designed Lego DNA using a digital Lego designer. Lego DNA has around 2500-3000 pieces!

Lego DNA

What are the key features of Lego DNA?

It is composed of two sections – the DNA structure itself and the research labs beneath it.

The model is scientifically accurate and was designed with the aim of resembling the actual structure as closely as possible using only Lego bricks. 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-degree 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.

The set also includes mini-figures (the official name for Lego people) of four scientists important in the discovery of DNA structure – Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, James Watson, and Francis Crick. The Lego DNA structure is also positioned on a platform, containing two research laboratories – the Franklin-Wilkins Lab and the Watson-Crick Lab. It is designed so it gives off the feel that the work of the two labs led to the rise of the discovery.

The labs contain many interesting features, one of which are the instruments used to take images of DNA samples, including the famous Photo 51 (taken under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin) which provided crucial evidence for discovering the structure of DNA.

lego dna photo

How does it feel to have reached 10,000 supporters?

It is absolutely awesome to have reached this milestone. It feels so satisfying, especially when it has taken two years.

Quite a few teachers have supported the project, and they have expressed great interest in wanting to get a set for their classrooms, schools, or students if it is made. When I was younger, I realised the value of similar scientific toys, and it’s so exciting that other students might play with and enjoy Lego DNA!

How can we support your project?

It’s really just a waiting game now, but hopefully, people can check it out in Lego stores or online in due course.

I have immensely enjoyed my time at King’s so far, and through Lego DNA, I hope King’s can become the first university to be honoured in Lego. I hope to give a set to King’s as a gift, and maybe it can be displayed alongside our other DNA-related displays on campus.

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