Despite what you may have seen in some textbooks, DNA is not built like a twisted ladder. The helix, or spiral, is an inherent feature of the DNA molecule. Notice, for instance, that in the picture below, that the groove on the left side of the picture is much larger than the right side. This is because the paired bases in the center meet each other at an angle.
DNA is a very large molecule; the image here shows only a tiny fraction of the typical molecule. If an entire molecule of DNA from the virus "bacteriophage lambda" were shown at this scale, the image would be 970 meters high. For the bacterium Escherichia coli, the image would be 80 kilometers long. And for a typical piece of DNA from a eukaryote cell, the image would stretch for 1600 kilometers, about as far as it is from Dallas to Washington, D. C.! Obviously such a large molecule is not fully stretched out inside the cell, but is wound around proteins called histones which protect the DNA.
For more information about gene function, try The Natural History of Genes, which includes on-line activities.