Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Beauty, terror

I offer below two images from the October 20 issue of Nature. Exactly what they represent is not as important as the visual appearance of the diagrams.

The first is a representation of mutations in flu viruses. Each horizontal row is a key amino acid position in one of ten viral proteins. The amino acids at each position are color coded. Mutations during five recent flu seasons (vertical columns) show up as a change in color across a row.The second image is a map of interactions between 121 human disease-associated proteins.The first image reminds me of music as it might be displayed with music-synthesizing software. The second might be a map of social interactions within a community, or perhaps a map of the internet. I am struck by two things: 1) That researchers are clever enough to figure out the machinery of life on such a microscopic scale; and 2) that the machinery of life, even on the scale of a virus, has so much in common with humankind's greatest works of art.