National Geographic

Your Inner Mosh Pit

I am an unreconstructed fan of biology visualizers, the da Vincis of the twenty-first century. So I was particularly pleased to learn of a gorgeous new video that conveys the squiggly complexity inside a cell. That video–and the aesthetic decisions behind it–are the topic my newest column for The New York Times. Check it out.

 

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  1. Jesse
    April 13, 2014

    Hi Carl,

    As always, I really enjoyed the article. One detail – you say:

    “A number of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are caused when defective proteins clamp onto other proteins, creating toxic clumps.”

    For most neurodegenerative diseases with pathology that includes protein aggregates, and especially the tauopathies, it is still very unclear whether the protein aggregates are an important causal factor in promoting the disease, or play a more secondary role. In Hunington’s there is decent evidence that aggregates play a more causal role, but not for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    Jesse

  2. Daniel Kim
    April 22, 2014

    The second video is amazing, and also hard to watch. You expect to hear a constant whirr of collisions as these molecules bash each other. Unseen are the water molecules that are zipping and colliding, driving Brownian motion.

    I once tried to comment the events of the first video, which made me gape in amazement when I first saw it years ago. I wanted to elaborate a bit to my daughters as we watched it. In the end, I had to say: “It’s amazing that this works at all”

    When you see the microtubules being assembled and disassembled, I believe each event requires the hydrolysis of a GTP molecule. The cloud of tubulin dimers falling off the receding end is itself in the middle of a cloud of phosphate and GDP (or maybe it’s at the growing end). This hydrolysis must also radically change the local pH. There’s so much going on that it takes years or decades of study to have a good grasp of the basics.

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