The chicken, the egg and the molecules – Muscle power (1980)

David Phillips

In his third lecture, Sir David Phillips explores the science of muscles.

Watch time: 58:13
David Phillips speaking in the Ri theatre
Image credit: Royal Institution

Lecture 3 – Muscle power

From the 1980 lecture programme:

Chickens and turkeys are favourite foods, especially at Christmas, because they have large muscles which are good to eat. The very large breast muscles, which chickens no longer use very effectively for flying, are particularly well regarded. Muscle is a complicated engine made of protein molecules which uses chemical energy to do mechanical work. We shall see how studies, mainly with the electron microscope, have shown how it is constructed and consider some current ideas about how it works.


Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This is one of the best known of all riddles without an answer but it is now giving place to a new riddle about the molecules from which chickens and eggs – and human beings – are made. These molecules are proteins and nucleic acids.

This series of six lectures, five presented by David Phillips and one with Max Perutz, showcases the complexity and importance of the proteins that make up so much of life. The lectures weave through the DNA helix, unravelling the mechanism that links DNA and protein production, and asking ‘which came first, the DNA or the protein?’