2 Comments »Posted on Tuesday 24 March 2009 at 8:14 am by Jacob Aron
In Biology, Getting It Wrong

I’ve just got time for a quick post this morning before I dash off to Imperial. We are finally handing in our group projects, so the whole day will be spent watching people present – and presenting my own, of course. Hopefully I’ll have some picture up in a few days.

For now, have a look at this video which depicts protein translation using stop-motion Lego animation:

The video was created by Kathy Vandiver, director of the Community Outreach and Education Program at MIT’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and is just one of a series of animations about cellular processes. They’re used as teaching aids for school-aged and adult students, but whilst I think it looks pretty cool (I’m always up for a bit of stop-motion) I don’t think it’s a very good example of science communication.

For one thing, I have absolutely no idea what is happening here. For that, I have to turn to the accompanying article in Popular Science magazine:

It shows translation, which is a cellular process in which proteins are synthesized. The piece of mRNA (messenger RNA) at the bottom of the video contains genetic information for building a protein. Each codon, which is a nucleotide triplet, in the mRNA sequence codes for an amino acid, which are the building blocks of proteins.

I’m confident enough that I have a working knowledge of biology to be able to write about it, but the last time I actually studied the subject was for my GCSEs. If I don’t get it, I don’t see how students currently working at GCSE level are meant to.

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair, as the videos are only meant to serve as an introduction at the beginning of a class. In that setting, I could see how they would work. Watching them out of context however, and I’m left baffled. What do you make of it?


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  2. I think it’s quite a nice way of illustrating the process. Protein and polynucleotide interactions are tricky to visualise, and lego works well because of the way that pieces fit together. Granted the video alone would not leave anyone any wiser about anything, but in conjunction with an explanation from a good teacher, I think it could be useful.

    By Sam Wong on Friday 27 March, 2009 at 2:37 pm

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  2. Thursday 2 April, 2009: weblogscience.com » Blog Archive » SciCom links 26/3/09

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