Working in the Dark

The study of shape and pattern in Nature is an enormous subject, ranging from the modern fascination with fractals and chaos theory to ancient observations of simple geometrical shapes, recurring again and again in nature. The spiral for example, appears in the tendrils of the pea plant, the swirl at the heart of a sunflower, the curve of a goats horn and, as we have deduced in the last century in the doubly endowed molecules of DNA. It seems that Nature can be very parsimonious with her shapes and patterns and our brains delight in the harmony and beauty that this produces.
However, there are places within Nature where shape is an all important part of the endgame and things are best described as being ‘shaped like themselves’. This, for example, is the world of the protein enzymes, whose shapes enable them to bind closely with another particular molecule, and in so doing trigger a crucial cascade of events within the cell. Proteins behave like locks to specific molecular keys. However they can only do so if they are made perfectly, to the correct pattern and shape.
I have for a long time been fascinated by the way we imagine worlds that Science can describe, but that we cannot actually see because these worlds are too small or too complex. However, biochemistry books are filled with many and various representations of large and complex molecules, including proteins. These have not been drawn from looking down a microscope. There are other more exotic ways to probe the depths of these molecules than to use light. However, there is no ‘seeing’ involved. Equally, there is no single right representation, because every technique illuminates a particular attribute of the whole. Also there is no stillness to the reality, as the pin sharp images of the text books would imply. These large molecules are in constant gentle, flexing motion. So, for a painter in this world of molecules there are hints and traces to play with, ideas to ponder, stories to be heard, and all the time the echoes of the miracles played out each moment.