Pretty Reapers

Did you know proteins were beautiful?

Of course, many of them are just vaguely potato-shaped lumps of joined atoms. But when a few of these lumps get together, the most amazing shapes can emerge. Such as these:

Structural models of different forms in various views

What the molecule actually looks like

These are models of a fruit fly apoptosome, a huge multi-protein complex that plays a role in programmed cell death. (Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is not as bad as it sounds. It’s used to remove damaged cells, to sculpt body parts during development, and other decidedly useful things.) The top image shows the structure of the apoptosome in the stylised language of molecular biology – spirals, ribbons, loops etc. indicate the way the protein is folded in that region. The bottom image gets closer to what the molecule would look like, although what the blue shapes represent – electron clouds – are kind of hard to picture in a realistic way. (The pictures are from Yuan et al. (2011) Structure of the Drosophila Apoptosome at 6.9 Å Resolution. Structure 19:128-140)

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