When I decided to bolt from a career in Civil Engineering and pursue medicine I had to go back and take a few classes in the life sciences to fulfill the prerequisites for medical school, not to mention needing to learn enough to do well on the MCAT. In Biochemistry, one of the classes I took at the University of California at San Diego (I was working near there as a fireman to keep the bills paid while I made the switch) the professor showed a fascinating film illustrating how protein chains are strung together from amino acids. I was mesmerized by this flick at the time, but never saw it again. On a hunch, I searched YouTube, and there it was. (God, I love YouTube!)
In those days films shown in class were just that: films. The lights would dim and the projector would whir, making a sound foreign to any of today’s students. (Anyone who went to school in the pre-digital age can immediately identify the sound of the clack, clack, clack of the end of a film that has run through the projector and is whacking the thing as the reel continues to turn. It’s a sound that’s part of our collective childhood. Probably no kid in America could identify it today.)
The film below was made at Stanford in 1971 and is still surprisingly up to date in terms of the biochemistry. There are a few interesting things to note. First, the nerdy look of the professor giving the introductory lecture–short sleeved white shirt, thin dark tie, short hair: none of which are likely to to be found on any professor today. Second, and most interesting to me, look at the bodies of the students making the film and the students watching as it was being made. Where is the obesity so rampant today, even on college campuses. Virtually all of the students seen in this film are thin–even those standing on the sidelines. What has happened in the last 30 years? (It’s hard to believe that all these student participants are now in their mid-to-late 50s and are hurtling pell mell into their dotage as am I.)
If this film were made today using a typical cross-section of students, the halves of the ribosome would be filled with much more obese bodies wallowing around instead of the thinnies in this film trying to make the ribosome look like a more dense structure. In actuality, if today’s students were used, the ribosome would appear more realistic.
Realize as you’re watching that this Mad Hatter’s tea party of activity is going on countless times per second in your own body. Every protein that is made, whether digestive enzymes, muscle, or insulin is made this way. In fact, when you eat carbs, signals go to the pancreatic beta cells to initiate just this activity to start making insulin, and it all happens in a eye blink. Amazing.
I’ve put up the entire film, nerdy introductory lecture and all. If you would rather avoid the introductory lesson, go to YouTube and enter ‘protein synthesis’ into the search window. You will find several posts of just the non-lecture part.
Enjoy. And imagine yourself as me back then, watching this in a darkened classroom. Believe me, I had never seen anything like this in engineering school, and I was dazzled. I knew I had made the right decision in jumping ship.


  1. “It’s a sound that’s part of our collective childhood. Probably no kid in America could identify it today.”
    Hell, I still talk about “records” (to general bewilderment) but ‘they’ are going to join ‘us’ soon when CDs become museum pieces!!
    Loved the film – it made a complicated process even more obscure! – sadly these days the whole thing would be done by computer animation overlaid with the dreaded PowerPoint dot points. Perhaps that is another reason for obesity these days – no one is persuading hordes of students to cavort around, supposedly in the interests of science, and incidentally get quite a workout in the process.
    Hmm, I wonder how many kids still read Lewis Carroll (O frabjous day!)
    I wonder how many would even recognize the Lewis Carroll parody in the narration if they were to even see this film today.

  2. This is amazing! I watched this video in my high school biochemistry class in my senior year – my teacher showed it to us because he was in it! I had no idea anyone else had ever seen this. 🙂 He would never straight out tell us which one he was, but common rumor (that he never denied) was that he was the guy with the fire extinguisher who yells “TRNA!” Thanks for the fun nostalgia. 🙂
    Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Interesting film. This got me thinking about my weight loss efforts. I lost considerable weight on a low fat/low calorie diet (pure torture) and later switched to a low carb diet to lose the rest. I believe I lost lean body mass as well. Will I gain back the lean body mass while still losing weight if I eat 70g protein per day?
    Hi Freddy–
    If I were you I would increase my protein intake, especially of meat.  Building lean body mass requires the branch chain amino acid leucine in doses of from 8-12 grams daily.  Meat (and egg protein too, for that matter) contains about  8% leucine, so 100 grams of meat protein will give you the 8 grams of leucine that you need.  70 grams provides just a little over 5 grams of leucine, not quite enough.  Whey protein isolate has a much higher percentage of leucine than meat even, so a shake made with that will help. (I’ll try to get up a blog about this whole idea sometime soon that will explain more better the function of leucine.)


  4. Those were the days, my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d sing and laugh forever and a day.
    We’d live the life we’d choose
    We’d fight and never lose
    For we were young and sure to have our way.
    Ah, weren’t they though. Reminds me of a gravestone I once saw of a woman who had died at an advanced age. Underneath the name and dates of birth and death were these words:
    You are now as I once was
    I am now as you will be.

  5. Very entertaining! Nothing like watching a bunch of hippies act out biochemical processes. Thanks for the video Dr. Eades.
    Hippies?  Go back and take a look at Initiator Factor Two.  I knew hippies; hippies were friends of mine. She is no hippie. 

  6. The professor giving the narrative at the beginning of the film is Paul Berg, Ph.D., an American biochemist. In 1980 he shared half of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with the team of Walter Gilbert and Frederick Sanger for their contributions to basic research in nucleic acids. In 1983 Ronald Reagan awarded Professor Berg the National Medal of Science.
    Hi Sharon–
    Thanks for the info.  I remembered that he was a Nobel laureate as soon as I read your comment, but I couldn’t have come up with his name.


  7. It’s a sound that’s part of our collective childhood. Probably no kid in America could identify it today.
    Uh oh…does that make me old at 36? I remember that sound well.
    Hi Victoria–
    Yes, it makes you very old. And before your time, too.


  8. Thanks, Dr. Mike. Now I can’t get the sound of those projectors whirring away out of my head along with the clack, clack, clack of the film end. Along with that, another sound lost to today’s generation is the snick snick of rotary dial phones. It took forever to dial a number if it had a lot of high digits in it.
    Your comments about the students reminded me of a documentary I saw on PBS called Tupperware! Every year, Tupperware would have this huge convention at its headquarters in Florida for all the saleswomen. The scenes shown were from the 50-60’s and I was struck at the time when watching how trim all the ladies were. Here and there in the huge crowds of women were a few that in those days were probably refered to as “stout” and that was about as large as they got.
    Hi Esther–
    You can see the same thing in old movies.  Almost everyone is thin as compared to today.  Remember Jackie Gleason, aka The Fat Man?  If you go back and look at him through today’s eyes, he wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.  Today he would be called a ‘little overweight’ whereas back then he was The Fat Man.

  9. I was reading a diet book writen by Mackarness and he claims that sodium slows down the rate of fat burning. I have noticed that when I consume much sodium my weight goes up significantly (must be water weight). Does it slow down fat burning though?
    Hi Freddy–
    I don’t know why sodium would slow down fat burning.  There is no biochemical reason for it to do so that I’m aware of.

  10. Don’t use haullucinogens while doing Protein Synthesis. Let this be a lesson for us all.
    (I am so speechless. I feel like I need some brain bleach. Wow. Just…wow. OK no…I feel like I did after seeing the video of Leonard Nimoy singing “Bilbo” only worse.)
    Yes, but now you have a complete understanding of protein synthesis.  What knowledge did you gain from watching Leonard Nimoy sing?

  11. I know there’s more obesity nowadays than there used to be and you’d see far fewer overweight people if you looked at an old film of a city street scene. Still, in the case of this film, many, if not most (but of course not all) overweight people are indoor people. Many fat people (and I include myself) know they’re generally not welcome or wanted. Plus, many overweight people don’t like to be filmed or photographed. So, those three factors are probably why you don’t see any overweight people in this film.
    In old films (heck, in current films) overweight people are just not hired, unless the script calls for the character to be overweight (often if s/he’s a slob or another negative stereotype).
    I just started Atkins and I heard on another web site that you (specific you) don’t count carbs if they’re fiber. For instance, if something is listed as having 5 carbs but 4 of them are fiber, you’re only ingesting and count 1 carb. Really? That’s interesting to me so I went looking for more information, which led me to this web site. I’m going to buy your book to see what else you have to say. I’m enjoying reading your blog.
    Hi Vickie–
    Hope you enjoy the book.  Let me know what you think of it after you read it.

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