Molecules and Movies: Using Multimedia with Molecular Model Building in Undergraduate Biochemistry Laboratories

Oisín D Keely, Andrew Flaus

National University of Ireland, Galway

All living things are underpined by a multitude of molecules contained in cells. Understanding molecular behaviour is the central aim of biochemistry, so contemporary textbooks contain many excellent images and animations. However, those presentations are fundamentally 2-dimensional and often de-emphasise the chemical properties underlying biomolecular behaviour. This reticence is unsurprising since, in chemical terms, proteins and DNA are very large: a small enzyme has over 1500 atoms and even a single turn of double helix comprises over 500 atoms. In fact, most biomolecules are built up from small subunits linked together. This means biochemical properties can often be understood by considering small subunits and how they associate in polymers. To make the link between chemistry and biology real and engaging for students, we have developed a suite of practical exercises for constructing structural models using chemical model kit components. To improve the clarity and empower students, we have integrated the use of multimedia clips on computers in our practical laboratory. This approach uses cheaply and readily available materials and resources including bulk plastic chemical parts for modelling, handheld camcorders and simple video editing software for multimedia production, and obsolete computers from university suites for teaching. The exercises provide a complement to traditional experiments. Students enjoy the group learning and tangible nature as well as the opportunity to identify visually and physically with theoretical presentations. The exercises culminated in development of a project where a small group of 4th year students constructed a 2000 atom protein structure starting from the sequence of subunit amino acids.

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