Representing Protein Dynamics: An interdisciplinary approach

Conference Presentation

The International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) Conference 2019: July 7-12, University of Oslo, Norway


Gemma Anderson, University of Exeter, UK

John Dupre, University of Exeter, UK

Jonathan J. Phillips, University of Exeter, UK

This interdisciplinary conference presentation addresses protein dynamics, beginning with a treatment of the energy landscape associated with protein folding. Here, Anderson is collaborating with protein biophysicist Jonathan Phillips. The conventional image for representing protein dynamics in biology is the “folding funnel”, an irregular, roughly conical shape that corresponds to an energy landscape down which the nascent protein is imagined to transition as its structure achieves lower energy formations. While this image represents some features well, others are obscured. In particular, important aspects of the intrinsic behaviour of molecular species are absent, or poorly represented, such as stochastic change and parallel pathways. Thus, a gap exists in our ability to represent and interact with fundamental dynamic processes in a visual manner that is intuitive and instructive. The proposed presentation at ISHPSSB, Oslo will describe the methods of interdisciplinary collaboration and the objectives of the project, and then present the images developed for protein folding and some discussion of their significance. As with the mitosis project, a number of novel modes of representation are being explored. We will present a series of new images that function as visual metaphors for the protein energy landscape. These draw on the structure of a maze, and we also experiment with the maze as a metaphor for processes beyond proteins, such as mitosis and speciation. Anderson, Phillips and Dupré will jointly present this work, providing philosophical, art-theoretic, and scientific, perspectives on the project and its results.