Viruses: Nuts and Bolts of a Bacteriophage

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 14, 2010

A virus is a nonliving particle that depends on a host to reproduce. There are different types of viruses, but all consist of a capsid, an outer protein coat, and some genetic material. Some viruses contain DNA and others RNA. In this activity you will build a simple model of a bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria.



Small bolt

Two nuts

One washer

Six small pieces of pipe cleaners


  1. Use the materials provided to build a bacteriophage model, referring to the illustration in Figure 9.2 as needed for guidance. Your model should have a capsid, a tail, and tail fibers.
  2. Judging by their appearance, what do you think the function of each of the parts in the model might be?

Follow-Up Questions

  1. What did you use for the capsid of the virus? What materials make up the capsid of a virus?
  2. If you could have cut away part of the capsid, what do you think would be found inside the capsid?
  3. What two parts do all viruses have in common?


  1. Answers will vary. The capsid should be the top of the virus. It is a protein coat.
  2. The genetic material would be inside the capsid.
  3. Protein coat and genetic material.


Viruses are generally classified according to their DNA or RNA content. Do some research, then illustrate and name two common viruses that contain DNA and two others that contain RNA.

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