DNA Playset

by emmett, published

DNA Playset by emmett Feb 10, 2012

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For this Valentine's Day: a DNA playset. This'll probably only go over well if your significant other is a biologist. But, hey, reproduction is sexy, right?

Thanks to Wikipedia and the hard work of many scientists to measure tiny molecules, this is an accurate 35,000,000:1 scale model of DNA. It's a playset because you print out copies of the four nucleotides (A, T, G, and C) and snap them together into whatever sequence you like.

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Do you know how much of the top and bottom layer need to be sliced off in order to make the middle holllow for a MakerBot Replicator? I'm using Slic3r.

Thanks! I was a little unclear. I read through all the comments and I was actually using Slic3r with the settings above. I then imported the gcode into ReplicatorG and converted it into a x3g for my replicator2. What happens is when I select the file to start printing, the extruder doesn't move and just sits there and keeps spitting out plastic. I can't seem to figure out what I'm doing wrong.

If you read the other comments here, you'll find some info. However, the real answer is this is probably not going to work with Makerware. Really I should just redesign this sometime based on the modern slicers. I haven't printed any of these in a very long time.

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The nucleotides are intended to be printed out as perimeters only, so turn off the fill plugin. Use Multiply to print more pieces at once: on a TOM I can print eight at a time (2x2 of the STL pair). I also recommend upgrading to SF44, which does filament retraction better than the default Skeinforge 35. Look up directions for upgrading online, as there are a couple of minor tricks involved.

The pieces have their letter embossed on their outer edges, but I still prefer to print them in different colors to make the sequence obvious. Remember: A's link across to T's and G's link across to C's. The snap shapes enforce this pairing. You may also notice that the A-T link is less secure than the G-C link: this is intentional, to model the fact that G-C pairs link by three bonds while A-T pairs link by only two.

There are some odd angles involved in creating a helix out of flat pieces, so the snap links along the helix backbone are only meant to line up along the outer edge. The letters are oriented such that if you read an assembled sequence from left to right, you'll be reading from the 5' end to the 3' end of the strand, which is the convention for reporting DNA sequences.

The OpenSCAD file is included in case you want to see how I modeled this or make changes. It also has an assembly function that allows you to specify a sequence and it will display the corresponding single helix. You'll have to make a complementary sequence as well to see the full double-helix.

These pieces print out so quickly that it doesn't take long to make a good strand (I can do about 30 base pairs in an hour and a half). However, be prepared to wait awhile if you want to print out all 2.9 billion base pairs of the human genome.


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willmtsai on Mar 12, 2014 said:

Kinda new to all of this but i wanted to start printing some of these for my classroom. I have a replicator 2. Would anyone be able to help me out with the settings? Ideally I'd want to use makerware, but I have slic3r installed and am trying to figure our the correct settings. Thanks!

willmtsai on Mar 12, 2014 said:

More Specifically, when I export the file as an stl, makerware says the file is too large. When i export it as a gcode, makerware fails to convert it to x3g. I must be doing something wrong... but I don't know what. I have set perimeters to 1, solid layers to 0 and fill density to 0.

Layer height .2 mm, Filament 1.75, temperature 230, bed size 153 x 155, print center 76.5 x 77.5, firmware makerware (makerbot), nozzle diameter .4 mm, retraction length 1 mm, lift z 0.

Anonymous on Feb 10, 2014 said:

Not sure why but my Makerbot Replicator 2 always fills the whole thing. Can you tell me what exactly the setting should be.
I have those three parameters in Makerware: Infill, Number of Shells, Layer Height.

emmett on Feb 10, 2014 said:

Sorry, Makeware can't do this because you can't turn off the top and bottom layers. You'll need a more configurable slicer like Skeinforge or Slic3r. It should be possible with Makerware, using a custom profile and then manually editing their json file, but I have yet to make that actually work. This design was from long before Makerware existed.

PabloBell on Mar 28, 2013 said:

If you add U to the set, you can also model RNA. And adding N would allow for unknown bases (should be in both strands).

PabloBell on Mar 28, 2013 said:

Great work! You could also suggest printing in the somewhat standard colors for each base: Green (A), Red (T and U), Blue (C), Black (G) and magenta (N and other degenerate bases). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... as just an example.

Comguard on Apr 30, 2012 said:

Great idea!

But I'm about confused about the infill-thing. I'm using Slic3r, can someone help me out with what setting I have to use?

emmett on May 1, 2012 said:

I belive you can just set perimeters to 1, solid layers to 0 and fill density to 0.

Grey on Apr 25, 2012 said:

Hi, im new to the thing o matic and i was wondering how i turn off the fill plug in. Any help will be apriciated!! :)

emmett on Apr 25, 2012 said:

If you're using ReplicatorG, click Gcode -
gt; Edit Slicing Profiles. Then select your profile (I usually make a new one specifically for perimeter-only models) and click Edit. That opens Skeinforge, so click on Fill and then uncheck Activate Fill. Then Save All and use that profile when you generate your Gcode.

jeremy on Mar 6, 2012 said:

Apparently no takers on making me some for my classes

emmett on Mar 6, 2012 said:

Well, one obvious solution is to get a Makerbot for your school. They're interested: http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2...

I'd write them a nice letter and see if they can help you out. You might also look up your local hackerspace. I'm sure wherever you are, there's bound to be someone with a 3D printer not too far away.

If all that fails, send me another message. I'm working on getting my automated build platf
orm working again, and once that's up I'll be able to print these a lot faster. I may be able to send you a box of nucleotides if you can cover my costs.

Anonymous on Mar 5, 2012 said:

saw this first time at your apartment :) ! This thing was awesome I can't wait to get a 3d printer and make some of my own!

jeremy on Feb 25, 2012 said:

I'm a biology teacher and I want a set of 15!!!

[email protected]

emmett on Feb 25, 2012 said:

I'm not in the business of selling my designs, but a couple of my other works have made it onto people's Etsy pages. Anyone interested is satisfying this demand?

dietz1 on Feb 22, 2012 said:

Fantastic addition to Thingiverse! Can't wait to try it out. 8-)

Lenbok on Feb 15, 2012 said:

This Thing is ridiculously cool! Great work!!

jmil on Feb 13, 2012 said:

so inspiring! thanks for doing this!

sconine on Feb 13, 2012 said:

This is awesome! Such a great way to learn/visualize DNA. Printing on my thing-o-matic works best if you set object first layer infill multiplier to 1, perimerter multiplier to .8 and flow rate multiplier to 1 (keeps the base layer from getting "fat"). Comes right off and snaps together. Really fun. Thanks!

mrbenbritton on May 26, 2012 said:

I'm trying to find these options in Skienforge and I must be blind. Where are they?

I'm trying to print with PLA and I have fill turned off, it's looking OK so far but the bottom layer is very fat and makes it difficult to snap together.

emmett on Feb 13, 2012 said:

Thanks for the tips. I also often print the first layer slower to help with adhesion on these thin parts (changing the feed and flow rates together). Nice print, by the way.

tarturo on Feb 12, 2012 said:

love it, printed some yesterday but 1.75 times bigger... I'll show it to my biology teacher that has been wondering for a bit what's a 3D printer, i bet she'll love it...

Anonymous on Feb 21, 2012 said:

Yeah, that was my first idea too :) Will tell my little sister to take it to class ^^

emmett on Feb 13, 2012 said:

Awesome, it'd be great if these managed to work their way into a classroom as a teaching tool.

matrhint on Feb 11, 2012 said:


RyGuy on Feb 11, 2012 said:

Liking this a lot!

QuantumConcepts on Feb 11, 2012 said:

Beauitful! =-O

fma on Feb 11, 2012 said:


jedynak on Feb 10, 2012 said:

Great, great job !