We made these virus models to show how different viruses have very different structures. They are also different sizes ( our models are not to scale ) and infect different types of hosts.

At a very basic level each virus consists of genetic information in the form of either DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat called a capsid.

play dough virus models

What you’ll need

Play dough or plasticine

Toothpicks, pipe cleaners, cotton buds – optional

Model each virus using the play dough or plasticine, thinking about the shape and structure of the virus. Our viruses are not to scale. In reality Ebola is much bigger than the others.

Playdough Virus Models

Playdough model of Ebolaand Cornonavirus
Image of playdough models of papillomavirus ZIKA. Adenovirus and conronavirus

Virus Images


Ebola is a highly contagious, zoonotic ( can be transmitted to humans from animals ) virus with a high death rate in humans.

Ebola is linear, with an RNA genome.

Two species of fruit bats are thought to be the hosts of Ebola virus. It is then transmitted to animals when they eat food that has been in contact with bat faeces or saliva.

Ebola is spread through humans by contact with infected bodily fluids.

The first known outbreak of Ebola was in Africa in 1976. The biggest outbreak so far was in 2014 where the virus was seen in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Around 11,000 people are thought to have died from the virus over the two year outbreak.

Image of Ebola under a microscope
View ebola virus under microscope

Symptoms of Ebola

Incubation period – 2-21 days

Fever, headache, weakness, nausae and blood clots which then cause bleeding into the surrounding tissue.

Ebola attacks every organ and tissue in the body.

Death within 8-17 days for between 5 and 9 out of 10 people infected.

Extension Task – Find out about Marburg Virus.

Suggested reading – The Hot Zone

Zika Virus

Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, it’s named after the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was discovered.

Zika virus can cause Zika fever, which is usually a mild infection in healthy people. However if a pregnant women contracts Zika it can lead to birth defects.

Outbreaks of Zika have occured in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and parts of southeast Asia.

Symptons of Zika virus



High temperature


Joint and muscle pain.

Zika virus in the blood with red blood cells
Zika virus in blood with red blood cells


A new type of coronavirus started to spread around the world at the end of 2019. COVID-19 leads to flu-like symptoms and is spread via infected particles that get into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even just talks. Virus particles can also survive for a period of time on surfaces, so if you were to touch a surface where the virus is and then your nose, mouth or eyes, you could becomes infected.

Not everyone who comes into contact with COVID-19 shows symptoms, some are asymptomatic.

The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2019 is yet to be seen.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Cold symptoms – sore throat, runny nose, general congestion

Muscle pain

High temperature



Loss of smell or taste



Adenoviruses are viruses that affect membranes of the respiratory tract, eyes, intestines, urinary tract and nervous system. They causes illnesses such as croup, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. Adenoviruses are usually highly contagious and can survive on surfaces as well as droplets in the air.

Infections are usually mild and symptoms depend on which part of the body is affected.

Adenovirus infection of the stomach and intestines causes stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Good hygiene is the best way to avoid adenovirus infections.

Adenovirus cells
Learn about the structure of viruses by making play dough or plasticine virus models. #virology #virusesforkids #viruses #biologyforkids

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Originally posted at Science Sparks