An example of a poor press release for a fun protein structure paper


Montana State chemists unravel secrets of unique enzyme
[Via Eureka! Science News]

Montana State University chemists have determined the structure of an intermediate form of a unique enzyme that participates in some of the most fundamental reactions in biology.


The press release never states what the name of the enzyme is. And it provides no link to the paper or anything else that would be helpful to gain more information.

In this day and age I should not have to do all this hard work to track down an interesting article.

So I went off to Nature and searched for the lead author. Found him and the article. I wish they had a little more in the press release – such as you can view the structure and manipulate it, seeing all the iron-sulfur centers.

These enzymes catalyze some pretty complex chemistry and the way that they are constructed is of real interest. Especially since these produce hydrogen so readily.

But I am a structure guy so I just love interacting with Jmol. Right click on the structure (control-click for Macs) and you get all sorts of choices to change the way the molecule looks. I’m particularly partial to the stereoscopic view. I’m one of the few people that can see the 3 D structure by either cross-eyed or wall-eyed view.

Wall-eyed is great when I am close to the screen. However, it becomes useless when I am far away. But cross-eyed will work whether you are close or far. It is great to use during slide presentations.

I learned about these approaches over 25 years ago when I took Biochemistry at CalTech. We used the Hood, Wood Wilson and Benbow book Biochemistry:A Problems Approach which had just been published. There are a couple of textbooks I had in college that were incredibly memorable because they provided me useful information in very novel ways.

The Structure and Action of Proteins by Dickerson and Geis was one of those (Holy crap. Someone wants $188.49 for the book. And someone else wants $600 for Biochemisty:A systems Approach! Too bad my versions are falling apart.)

I can’t remember if it was Wood or Hood who taught the class when I took it. I think Hood, whom I have kept in contact with these many years. I do know that we got to beta-test the similar book on Immunology he wrote.

Anyway, the Biochemistry book had the first representation of 3-D protein structures in it and a little tutorial about how to view them. To do wall-eyed, you essentially had to look far away but focus close. I remember the book saying you had to disconnect motor and neural pathways used since birth.

But with some simple figures to practice on, it became easy. Then years later, I learned how to do it cross-eyed.

And like learning to ride a bicycle, something you never forget. In fact, it would be hard for me to actually tell which way I was actually viewing a sterograph. The way to tell is that wall-eyed results in the merged image appearing to be in front of the printed page, with the structure seemingly larger than the individual pictures. IN cross-eyed, the merged image appears behind the printed page with a smaller apparent image.

[Listening to: We Gotta Get Out of This Place from the album “Hope & Glory” by Ann Wilson & Wynonna Judd]