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Origami and the Art of Folding Proteins


If you can fold origami bugs from flat pieces of paper, then you may also be able to understand how to fold proteins.

There was a chart that looked very much like the square contact map found in Fold.it. This flat diagram looked just like an origami folding diagram for a bug made from a single, flat piece of paper. It reminds us that similar sensibilities about form and figure may apply.

One of the things that makes origami a 'special' type of paper folding is the fact that no paper is cut from the whole or is thrown away. The entire square of paper is used. This is similar to the kind of protein puzzles presented in Fold.it. The entire sequence is used and accounted for. The folder must always concern themself with 'using' it all. For example, the folder thinks "What am I going to do with that leftover strand of amino acids?" Part of the aesthetics of properly folded proteins, as with properly folded origami figures, is the use and form of the entire sheet of paper.

As the origami figure begins with a flat sheet of paper, the folded protein begins as a linear sequence of amino acids. From the two-dimensional raw materials comes the form and figure in three dimensions.

The origami artist embraces the constraints of the flat sheet of paper to help define the structure and form of their three-dimensional animals. For example, the sensuous curve of the lobster tail is created using only straight folds, up and back, up and back, in ever decreasing sections. So, too, does the protein, created from beta sheets, use loops to make sharp-angled turns to create a wider plane of many multiple sheets. The aesthetic 'eye' of both folders tell them that the objective has been achieved without violating the basic rules of the materials.

More Techniques at > The Foldit Labs

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