My Campbell's Biology textbook contains the following diagram related to the semi-conservative model of DNA replication proposed by Watson and Crick. I have highlighted where my confusion arises in red:

enter image description here

So, I understand what goes on in the first replication--that's pretty much straightforward. However, what I don't understand is why in the second replication, the light blue strand isn't paired with a dark blue strand. After all, aren't the light blue strand and dark blue strand complementary, per the results of the first replication?

After the light blue and dark blue DNA strands separate to serve as templates in Replication #2, why don't we see two dark+light double-helices?

  • $\begingroup$ A small note for the future. Ending the title by : question is really not informative as the post will obviously contain a question. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Feb 1, 2016 at 3:21

1 Answer 1


I believe the reason you are having trouble understanding the concept is due to a poor usage of colors in the diagram. Don't focus on the colors, but on the concept. It's the same for both replication events. Each strand of a double helix is used as a template to make a new complimentary strand, giving rise to two new DNA helices from the original. In each new double helix, one strand should match that of the double helix it came from before, as it was the template and is the same strand. While the other strand, the complimentary strand, has been newly synthesized to match the complimentary strand. In this diagram, every newly synthesized strand is shown in light blue.

Start by looking at the first double-helix of DNA (navy blue). During replication, the DNA is unwound and each navy strand is used as a template to create the newly synthesized (complimentary) strand, which is shown in light blue. In this first all navy double helix, you have two navy strands that are each used as a template strand and new complimentary strands (light blue) are synthesized to match . This produces the second two helices (navy and light blue). They each have one strand from the original helix (navy), and one new strand (light blue).

The process is exactly the same for the second replication event, only, a new color was not introduced to show a newly synthesized strand, so one cannot differentiate between the original (template) strand and the new complimentary strand. Both are pictured as light blue.

For the final replication event, only focus on the top navy and light blue helix first. Just as before, the two strands are separated from each other and are both used as templates to create a new strand. The navy blue strand is used as a template for a new light blue strand to be transcribed. This produces the top-most helix, where the original strand is shown as navy and the newly transcribed (complimentary) strand is light blue.

Just as the navy strand was a template, the light blue strand from the bicolored helix is used as a template strand as well to create the second all light blue helix. This light blue template strand is used to synthesize a new light blue strand, creating the all light blue helix. One of the strands is the original light blue one from the navy and light blue helix, while the other strand is the newly synthesized one.

It might've been easier if they had used a different color for the final round of replication, like orange. Then to show the newly synthesized strands in the final round, the 1st and 4th double helix would consist of a navy (original) strand and an orange (newly synthesized) strand. The second and third double helices would then have each had a light blue (original) strand and an orange (newly synthesized) strand. This would have made it easier to understand where each strand originally came from.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your thorough response. But in the second round of replication, why isn't the light blue template strand's complementary strand just another navy blue strand? I would imagine the base pairs of the complementary strand would be the same as those of the navy blue strand. Does it have to do with 5' and 3' arrangements? $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2016 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see. This diagram is set up so that you can easily follow which strand was the original template strand that is from the original helix. The navy color is not signifying whether a strand is 5'-3' or 3'-5'. If you want to think about it like that then, yes, one of the light blue strands for the final helix, IS exactly the same as a navy strand, so it could be shown as navy. But really, navy is used to signify the original strands of the first helix so you can follow the movement of original strands started out with. Try drawing your own replication event of a double helix to help. :) $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2016 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, I took your advice and drew a diagram using 5'___3' and the parental DNA does in fact end up in all of the "daughter" strands. Not sure why the book writers didn't use the navy after replication #2. EDIT: nevermind, I see what you mean. So they just represented the original parent strands with navy rather than using navy for any strand that matches the parental sequence, right? $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2016 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly!! In the EDIT, you have it! That's all they were trying to do. $\endgroup$ Jan 19, 2016 at 1:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .