DNA interactive Inspire article

This award-winning yet inexpensive educational DVD contains numerous short interviews with scientists, many of them Nobel laureates, who have played a major role or continue to work principally in human molecular biology.

There are also computer animations showing key techniques and processes. Video clips are grouped in several ways to facilitate their use, e.g. by theme or by interviewee. The material is aimed mostly at 16- to 19-year-old biology students. Many, if not most, of the clips have been culled from a five-part Channel 4/PBS television series made to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double helix. That series of five 50-minute programmes, DNA – The story of the pioneers who changed the world, is available on two DVDs from the production company, Windfall Films Ltd.

The most spectacular and impressive sequences in DNA interactive are undoubtedly the molecular animations showing DNA replication, coiling and protein synthesis. These were created by Drew Berry at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Coupled with the possibility of choosing the level of sophistication of the accompanying spoken commentary, these superb clips form an extremely useful addition to teaching resources.

Other animations taken from the television series vary in quality, and some, such as that showing simple DNA replication, are clearly intended for a different, general audience. Indeed, the voiceover indicates the DVD makers’ recognition of the replication clip’s shortcomings – the DNA molecules consist simply of bases with no sugar-phosphate backbones. Some of the other explanations are disappointing, such as that of DNA microarrays, which really leaves the viewer none the wiser.

The principal feature of the DNA interactive DVD is its interviews with scientists who were and are at the forefront of molecular genetics. Where else could you find Francis Crick, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins, François Jacob, Benno Müller-Hill, Sydney Brenner, Paul Berg, Wally Gilbert, Herb Boyer, Stanley Cohen, Kary Mullis, Alec Jeffreys, Svante Pääbo and the other creators of molecular genetics talking about their work? It is a shame that the DVD was not produced five or ten years ago, before several of the pioneers of molecular biology had died.

Be warned that many of the DVD’s 200 clips are little more than short ‘sound bites’, and that to be used effectively in an educational context, they would require supporting materials. Fortunately, the producers have realised this: there is a complementary website at the Dolan DNA Learning Center which presents a great deal of additional, highly valuable, educational material.


PAL, Region 2 version
Dolan DNA Learning Center
Windfall Digital, London, UK
Publication year: 2003
ISBN: 0971058822


The DNA interactive project was funded mainly by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Additional funding came from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Channel 4 television and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


The PAL DVD with English commentary may be ordered direct from Windfall Digital, 1 Underwood Row, London N1 7LZ, UK.

An NTSC, Region 1 DVD with an American voice-over is also available to educational institutions at a discounted price, directly from the Dolan DNA Learning Center.

Information on DNA – The story of the pioneers who changed the world can be found on the Windfall Films Ltd website

Note that a Region 1 DVD may not play on some European DVD players, or may require that you reset the region on your computer’s DVD player. Often the region coding can only be changed a limited number of times, after which it is necessary to wipe the computer’s hard drive. It is therefore advisable to purchase a DVD with the correct region setting (1 = USA; 2 = Europe).





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