Cornell University

Protein synthesis in 1971

We of the Mushroom Blog are fervent about learning, and we especially admire pedagogical contributions that are bizarre or silly. In that spirit, we offer you this spectacular video interpretation of protein synthesis. You might be thinking I’m off-topic, so let me explain.

Every time we here at the Mushroom Blog tell you this or that fungus has been reclassified, or is found to have surprising black sheep relatives, or that we’re “sequencing it to find out where it belongs,” we are basing our pontifications on a star of this film, ribosomal RNA. That’s right, most new insights on fungal classification arise from analysis of rRNA. It’s an evolutionarily conserved molecule. You have it too, and so do plants, and bacteria, and, well, everything that’s alive. It’s fundamental to life. It is wound with a handful of proteins into a fiendishly clever structure called a ribosome–the site of protein synthesis. Every cell in a fungus, a wombat, a sea cucumber has many, many ribosomes.

Ribosomal RNA is the star of molecular phylogenetics. Because it is abundant in cells, it was among the first molecules to be widely sequenced. Now a host of other co-stars also contribute to phylogenetic inference. Like ribosomal RNA, they are mostly slowly evolving “housekeeping” genes, found in all fungi, and therefore ripe for comparison.

If you’re having trouble seeing the embedded video, view it on YouTube

This film is sheer genius, and not just because it’s groovy and has Jabberwockian narration. No, it’s because it transcends the flat diagrams of your average textbook, and transmits the exuberant, elegant chaos of cellular processes.

As you watch the video, try to sense this happening right now(!) in trillions upon trillions of cells in your body (including the bacteria in your gut, the mites in your eyebrows, and your bad case of athlete’s foot).

  • The video was directed by Robert Alan Weiss for the Department of Chemistry of the University of California, San Diego. It’s introduced by Paul Berg, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. We know a little more about protein synthesis now, but for sheer spirit, this film can’t be beat. We found it via YouTube.
  • For a good dose of how rRNA and other genes are finally helping us get a grip on fungal relationships, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with AFTOL: the Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life project funded by the National Science Foundation.
  • Here is more about ribosomes from Molecular Expressions. While you’re there, browse their impressive galleries and learn about microscopy.
  • By the way, protein synthesis is the very thing that gets stopped up after you eat a destroying angel mushroom. The mushroom toxins arrest the transcription of DNA. That’s very bad.

Thanks to coolhunting for the find.



3 Responses to “ Protein synthesis in 1971 ”


Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.


Entries Comments

Or subscribe by email by entering your address: