Secret Universe: The hidden life of a cell

The programme includes amazing animations interpreting what is going on within our cells

The programme includes amazing animations interpreting what is going on within our cells

Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2012

Genre: documentary, animation


Review by Josh Sutton

It can be incredibly difficult to visualise certain aspects of cell biology. Static, two dimensional images do not allow full appreciation of the mechanism or complexity of a protein or other intracellular structures. In this hour-long documentary, various cell substructures are represented, including motor proteins, aspects of the cytoskeleton and endocytosis.

Narrated by David Tennant, the documentary begins with a brief (and admittedly basic) overview of cell structure, giving an explanation of the function of various components. It then moves on to show what happens to a cell during infection by adenovirus (beginning at 9:55). Footage shows how infection occurs, and how the body’s immune system responds. We are then shown how the virus modifies the cell to produce more viral particles (starting from 38 mins). Short interviews from scientists, such as geneticist Steve Jones, add more depth to the information presented. Because of this, this is an excellent video to watch for those interested in cell biology, virology and immunology, and is worthwhile watching in its entirety.

Since it is aimed at a general audience, the depth of content in this documentary is not at the same level as it would be in lectures. Some of the simplification is the use of more common terms, such as saying white blood cells instead of leukocytes, and using ‘keys’ to explain receptor binding, as well as not mentioning specific protein names (such as clathrin). However, the value of this video is not in its scientific descriptions, but in the excellent visuals.

It would be beneficial to watch this video while revising, and then fill in the missing aspects of the science yourself, testing your own knowledge and helping you to identify areas where your knowledge is lacking.

The IMDB page for this documentary is here. According to the TRILT database it has only been transmitted once, on 21st October 2012.


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