Delve into the world of structural biology and take a look at protein structure and function.
We have developed a series of clips to explore the Life Fantastic with your students. The pages are intended for use as a prompt to help you prepare when exploring these topics in lessons. Teachers have told us that the videos and questions best suit being used as a topic introduction.
On this page you will find an overview of the topic covered by the clips, a brief summary of each clip, related questions and how the topic links to the curriculum. This is one of eight available resources on developmental biology. For more topics see the teaching resources list.
The structures and functions of myosin, haemoglobin and myoglobin are described, and why their structures are suitable for their roles in the body are explained. The clips provide a useful basis on which to consider macromolecules and their construction in general, here with the repeating units of proteins, the amino acids.
The material in this resource is supported by video clips from the CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2013.
This resource is suitable for Key Stage 4 and AS/A2 level. Full curriculum links are given at the bottom of the page.
The clip starts with a question: what makes a neuron different from a heart cell? The answer is proteins; the type of proteins a cell produces determines what that cell does. Alison Woollard explains that proteins are one of the biological macromolecules, made up of repeating units of amino acids. The sequence of these amino acids determines the shape and structure of the protein and each protein has a structure perfectly suited to its role. Myosin, for example, has a long tail and bending head that allows it to flex and straighten – this drives muscle contraction. Alison’s second protein, haemoglobin, is seen live in a volunteer’s arm and neck with the VeinViewer scanner. Alison uses the device to see the haemoglobin and the blood within the volunteer’s blood vessels in real time. This amazing demonstration also reveals the arrangement of the blood vessels in the volunteer’s arm, a technique that may be used in the medical practice of the future.
Running Time: 4 min 19 sec
Prof Stephen Curry of Imperial College London introduces myoglobin, an oxygen-storing protein that was the first protein structure to be seen by humans. The early model may be crude and rather ugly looking but it represents the beginning of structural biology – a discipline which looks at the 3D shape of molecules to discover more about their function. Prof Stephen Curry explains how the method they used to determine myosin’s structure in 1958, called X-ray crystallography, has revolutionised the way that we study biology, allowing scientists to look in tremendous detail at biological molecules.
Running Time: 4 min 31 secs
To extend this resource for A-level students, watch the Royal Institution’s short animation on crystallography, Celebrating Crystallography. This animation journeys through the 100 year history of crystallography – from the pioneering work of William and Lawrence Bragg in 1913 to the surface of Mars. To date 28 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to projects related to the field and X-ray crystallography remains the foremost technique in determining the structures of a huge range of complex molecules.
The resource illustrates the diversity of protein shape and structure given by different sequences of amino acids and explains that protein structure is strongly related to protein function. This corresponds to the requirements in:
Haemoglobin is considered in more depth and provides a platform for the teaching of the role of haemoglobin within the blood as referred to in:
The resource examines protein structure in detail, using the examples of myosin, haemoglobin and myoglobin. Haemoglobin is discussed in reference to its role in the in the body and the role of the vasculature is highlighted. This conforms to:
The similarity in myoglobin and haemoglobin structure between animals as discussed in the second clip gives an example of a protein comparison used to inform evolutionary relationships, a topic corresponding to:
View the full CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Life Fantastic, along with behind the scenes footage, and related content, at the Ri Channel (www.richannel.org).