Balls and Sticks

Biology is applied chemistry, chemistry is applied physics, and physics is applied maths. But nature cares little for the traditional lines separating the disciplines. And cutting-edge laboratories reflect this increasingly by encouraging researchers to work in interdisciplinary teams. For example, biophysicists discovered that by mutating four genes associated with an enzyme found in all our cells (CGI of the protein, in red and blue, pictured), they disturbed the finely-tuned electrostatic field (represented by white lines) that surrounds the molecule and controls its shape, and how it attracts vital chemicals. Because even mild defects in the enzyme can cause a rare mental disability called Snyder-Robinson syndrome, it’s critical that biologists explain how complex molecules work in as much detail as possible. For that, they need to understand physics and even quantum mechanics. Ball-and-stick models won’t do anymore.

Written by Tristan Farrow