Molecular HappeningGAMBIER, Ohio (March 31, 2006) Rarely have science and art merged as enduringly, or as endearingly, as in "Protein Synthesis: An Epic on the Cellular Level," a twenty-minute educational film that has become a classic to generations of high-school and college science students. On an open field at Stanford University in 1971, several hundred students convened to undulate and impersonate molecules undergoing protein synthesis by a ribosome. A few were trained dancers, wearing costumes and colored balloons to identify their roles; most were recruited with the promise of fun and refreshments.
But make no mistake: despite the flower-power feel and psychedelic strains of the "Protein Jive Sutra," this is serious science. The narrator is Nobel laureate Paul Berg, who explains the process in a prologue that introduces the leading players, such as 30s Ribosome, mRNA, and Initiator Factor One.
"We rarely get the opportunity to participate in a molecular happening," Berg explains. "You're going to have that opportunity, as this film attempts to portray symbolically, but in a dynamic and joyful way, one of nature's fundamental processes: the linking together of amino acids to form a protein."
In honor of the dedication of the Kenyon Athletic Center, students and faculty of the departments of dance and drama and biology are recreating the famous "protein synthesis dance" at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, in the multi-activity court at KAC. Biology professor Joan Slonczewski is consulting on the project and was instrumental in obtaining permission to show the film, long out of print. Slonczewski says that the depiction is still scientifically sound. "You see all the random motion of the strand, an analysis of the actual motion of the long, chain molecules in solution, which you never see in diagrams. This dance shows an aspect of natural molecular interaction that you can't show in pictures."
The narrator will be MIT biochemist and Kenyon trustee Harvey Lodish '62, who "was one of the pioneers in figuring out how the ribosomes worked," Slonczewski says. The choreography is reconstructed and directed by assistant professor of dance Julie Brodie, with student assistants Katie Capaldi and Louisa Harding. Special guests will be the original film's director and choreographer, Gabriel and Jackie Benington Weiss. A repeat performance will take place on Saturday, April 22, at 2:00 p.m. To view the film, go to http://biology.kenyon.edu/slonc/Micro/protein_synth102105.mp4.