Okay, forget writing. ScienceNOW’s John Bohannon just showed me an infinitely superior medium for science communication: interpretive dance.
These folks are from a biochem lab at Louisiana State University, and they just won ScienceNOW’s “Dance Your PhD” contest in the Professors category. The dancers are professor Vince LiCata and his grad students, and they’re performing LiCata’s 1990 thesis, “Resolving Pathways of Functional Coupling in Human Hemoglobin Using Quantitative Low Temperature Isoelectric Focusing of Asymmetric Mutant Hybrids.” (Say that three times fast.)
They’re basically showing how oxygen binds to hemoglobin in different ways, depending on where the first oxygen molecules latch on.
Hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen around your blood, has four subunits, which tend to pair off into near-inseparable dimers (the pairs with matching gloves and goggles in the dance). If one dimer gets two oxygens (white balls) all to itself, it doesn’t cooperate well with the other dimer. But if each dimer gets an oxygen, they dance happily together, and usually pick up two more oxygens.
LiCata had to cool the molecules down and take pictures of them to study them–which explains the bearded “Old Man Winter” sprinkling “snow” and the paparazzi snapping photos.
This is my other favorite: grad student Sue Lynn Lau dancing her thesis, “The role of vitamin D in beta-cell function.” The sun produces vitamin D, vitamin D (Lau herself as the Sugarplum Fairy) delivers marshmallow glucose to somnolent beta cells, and the beta cells wake up and blow soap bubbles of insulin. Then they all dance around and the sun does four consecutive backflips.
Look how much fun they’re having! There should totally be more of this.
And there will be–the prize for the contest is to have your dance performed by professionals at the AAAS meeting in Chicago in February. I will definitely write about it, I promise.
For now, though, I need to go trade my laptop for a leotard.