Human Chaperones: Interactive experiments in micro-choreography

Project ran 2014 – 2015
stretching-compressing-sequenceHuman Chaperones takes inspiration from the fact that many of the problems studied by molecular biochemists are effectively problems of ‘shape-recognition’ and ‘shape-matching’. For example, when it comes to designing new pharmaceutical remedies, the aim is often to design a drug molecule that specifically targets and fits snugly into a larger molecular receptor. This problem can be likened to a sort of 4d version of Tetris. How to imagine 4d Tetris? First imagine Tetris. Then imagine adding another dimension so that it’s a 3d shape-matching game. Then imagine that the shapes of the 3d pieces are governed by time-dependent forces – so that their shapes are flexible, floppy, non-rigid, and constantly fluctuating.  Broadly speaking, the shapes which biomolecules explore (and the way that they move) are determined by energy field interactions between their constituent atoms. Molecular shape finding is a complicated process which can easily go wrong, to the extent that our cells have special molecules called ‘Chaperonins’ whose specific job is to ensure that molecules find their correct shapes. Human Chaperones enabled people to play the role of a Chaperonin – giving them the ability to directly manipulate a real-time biophysics simulation. We used computer vision to interpret people as energy fields and embed them into the simulation, where they could then use their own fields to interact with and ‘chaperone’ the energy fields that determine biomolecular shape.