Unit Engineering Nature:
DNA Visualization and Manipulation

A grainy black and white image of a DNA strand.
Electron micrograph of a DNA sample.
Copyright © 2012 University of California Los Angeles http://www.biolchem.ucla.edu/Resources_Electron_Microscopy_Laboratory_Images.htm


Students are introduced to genetic techniques such as DNA electrophoresis and imaging technologies used for molecular and DNA structure visualization. In the field of molecular biology and genetics, biomedical engineering plays an increasing role in the development of new medical treatments and discoveries. Engineering applications of nanotechnology such as lab-on-a-chip and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) microarrays are used to study the human genome and decode the complex interactions involved in genetic processes.

Engineering Connection

Visualization of small structures such as the molecular structures of complex proteins and genetic material (DNA) is possible due to engineering discoveries and breakthroughs in physics at small scales. Imaging technologies such as x-ray and scanning electron microscopy—used by scientists and engineers to image microscopic structures—are also used by biomedical engineers and biologists to study biomolecules, cells and tissue samples. Microfluidics concepts and devices used to study colloidal particle flow are also employed by biologists to study and filter biomolecules. Gel electrophoresis is one example engineering application that is used by biologists to compare fragments of DNA samples.

Unit Overview

This unit presents technologies used to visualize the complex structures of biomolecules such as DNA and proteins, as well as DNA fingerprinting by gel electrophoresis, a DNA analysis technique used in forensic studies.

In the first lesson, "Imaging DNA Structure," students are introduced to imaging methods in current use and the challenges faced by biologists and biomedical engineers when trying to understand biomolecule structures. In the associated activity, students research specific imaging technologies with applications in biology and present their findings.

In the second lesson, "Restriction Enzymes and DNA Fingerprinting," students learn about electrophoresis applications for DNA fingerprinting. The associated hands-on activity illustrates the concept of electrophoresis and DNA fingerprinting.

Educational Standards

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Unit Schedule

More Curriculum Like This

High School Lesson
Imaging DNA Structure

Students are introduced to the latest imaging methods used to visualize molecular structures and the method of electrophoresis that is used to identify and compare genetic code (DNA).

High School Activity
Inside the DNA

Students conduct their own research to discover and understand the methods designed by engineers and used by scientists to analyze or validate the molecular structure of DNA, proteins and enzymes, as well as basic information about gel electrophoresis and DNA identification.

High School Lesson
Restriction Enzymes and DNA Fingerprinting

Students focus on restriction enzymes and their applications to DNA analysis and DNA fingerprinting. They use this lesson and its associated activity in conjunction with biology lessons on DNA analysis and DNA replication.

High School Activity
DNA Forensics and Color Pigments

Students perform DNA forensics using food coloring to enhance their understanding of DNA fingerprinting, restriction enzymes, genotyping and DNA gel electrophoresis.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2012 University of Houston


Mircea Ionescu; Myla Van Duyn

Supporting Program

National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Programs, University of Houston


This digital library content was developed by the University of Houston's College of Engineering under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant number DGE-0840889. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: September 7, 2017

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