Skip to main contentU.S. National Library of MedicineU.S. National Library of Medicine

Profiles in Science
Pinterest badge Follow Profiles in Science on Pinterest!

The Paul Berg Papers

Protein Synthesis: An Epic on the Cellular Level
Directed in 1971 by Robert Alan Weiss for the Department of Chemistry of Stanford University and imprinted with the "free love" aura of the period, this short film continues to be shown in biology class today. It has since spawn a series of similar funny attempts at vulgarizing protein synthesis. Narrated by Paul Berg, 1980 Nobel prize for Chemistry.
Running Time:
13 minutes, 24 seconds
Weiss, Robert Allen
Narrator: Berg, Paul
   Disclaimer; please review our Privacy Policy
Reproduced with permission of Paul Berg.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Protein Biosynthesis
Amino Acids
Exhibit Category:
Protein Synthesis, Tumor Viruses, and Recombinant DNA, 1959-1975
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Video recordings
Physical Condition:
[Paul Berg]: Only rarely is there an opportunity to participate in a molecular happening. You're going to have that opportunity for this film attempts to portray symbolically, yet in a dynamic and joyful way, one of nature's fundamental processes, the linking together of amino acids to form a protein. We know now that the three dimensional structure and the function of a protein is determined by the order of amino acids along the backbone of the molecule, so protein synthesis involves programming and assembly. And this film with people portraying molecules using the dance idiom, tries to animate these two processes, the programming and assembly of a protein. Our genes carry the instructions for ordering the amino acids of each protein. Those instructions are encoded in a messenger molecule mRNA, depicted in this film as a long snaking chain. Each of the messenger units is played by three adjacent people in the chain. Colored head balloons indicate the bases: green for guanine, blue for uracil, yellow for adenine. If there is a message, there must be a way to translate that message. That's the job of the ribosome and of the transfer RNAs. The ribosome is composed of a large and of a smaller subunit, and these are depicted in the film as tumbling rolling clusters of body, amorphous by themselves but organized and structured when in the act of translating the message. First the small subunit, with the aid of an initiation factor, captures the message. Then the first transfer RNA carrying its cognate amino acid is brought to the ribosome message complex by a second dancing initiating factor. This requires energy and that's represented by a puff of smoke. Next the large ribosomal subunit tumbles into place and then the process of bringing each amino acid to the ribosome message complex is accomplished by the T factor and its GTP cohort. And so in the order prescribed by the balloon colors in the message chain, each amino acid is brought to the assembly site to be added to the growing chain by the peptobiolsynthesase[?]. Next, in an energy requiring step, the message RNA tRNA complex is shifted so as to bring the next message unit into the ribosome to allow the process to repeat itself. At the end, terminator factor seeing the termination signal, cleaves the completed protein from the last tRNA, releasing it from the ribosomes. So that the ribosome can do its job again, the two subunits are split apart and separated from the messenger by the ribosome releasing factor. My diagram is of necessity static, but protein synthesis is a dynamic process. This movie tries to bring those dynamic interactions to life.
Twas brillig in the slythy 30s ribosome did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy was mRNA that colored message unit array.
Bound they were in the glorious sun by initiator factor 1.
Initiator factor 2 went searching for tRNA who bore the flaccid amino acid.
Then as the eppish bonds were formed the 50s ribosome untamed came wiffling through the tulgy glass and burbled as it came.
T factor plus GTP gathered in tRNA. Gathered in tRNA and came gallumping back.
Amino acids both inside, alas the peptide bond was formed and as the index step took place, the message units shift a space.
Each tRNA approached the site bearing its amino acid load whose sequence was determined by the mRNA message-unit magic code.
Long time did biocomplex churn. The protein grew by tibs and tomes. Amino acids linked in turn by the catalytic ribosome.
Protein releasing factor sends the end her vorpal arms went snicker snout. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
The protein chain came streaming out. Then ribosome releasing factor with jaws that bite and claws that flee, released the synthesizing complex and chortled in his glee.
Twas brillig and the slythy ribosome did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy was mRNA and portein chain outgrabe.
Metadata Last Modified Date:
Linked Data:
RDF/XML     JSON     JSON-LD     N3/Turtle     N-Triples