TV star Mel Giedroyc has teamed up with Oxford University scientists to explore the shapes and structures of proteins: vital building blocks of life on Earth.
In a new animation launched, entitled 'A case of crystal clarity', the presenter of shows such as The Great British Bake Off is the voice of a mysterious magician who introduces viewers to a different kind of cookery: the science of crystallography. In crystallography, molecules such as proteins are transformed into crystals and then bombarded with X-rays. The patterns made by these X-rays give clues to a particular protein’s 3D structure.
Magician Mel's willing victim is our animated hero Ossie, a friendly green popsicle who has previously got sucked inside a jet engine, ridden a rogue planet, and explored a volcano's plumbing system, as well as investigating heart attacks, the coldest things in the Universe, and the Large Hadron Collider. In his latest outing, Ossie is shrunk to the scale of a protein's component parts and then reassembled into a crystal before suffering an X-ray battering, all in the name of science.
Mel Giedroyc said: 'I love Oxford and I'm in awe of anyone who can understand science (I got thrown out of physics and chemistry aged 13 for being scientifically challenged). Having merely thought of crystals as little annoying bits on the end of a hippy's tasselled skirt, I'm now looking at them in a whole different light. It's fascinating stuff!'
Professor Elspeth Garman and graduate student Jonny Brooks-Bartlett of Oxford University's Department of Biochemistry were the lead scientific advisors on the project. Professor Garman said: 'Crystals of all sorts are intrinsically very beautiful. They can also give us critically important information on the shapes of the tiny molecules from which they are made – molecules that are far too small to see in a microscope. For instance, we can find the 3D structures of proteins vital to the functioning of our bodies, and thus understand the role they play and why they can sometimes go wrong.
'This animation, which was enormous fun to help make, gives a snapshot of how in practice we go from a crystal to the structure of a protein.'