Doing molecular biophysics: finding, naming, and picturing signal within complexity.
A macromolecular structure, as measured data or as a list of coordinates or even on-screen as a full atomic model, is an extremely complex and confusing object. The underlying rules of how it folds, moves, and interacts as a biological entity are even less evident or intuitive to the human mind. To do science on such molecules, or to relate them usefully to higher levels of biology, we need to start with a natural history that names their features in meaningful ways and with multiple representations (visual or algebraic) that show some aspect of their organizing principles. The two of us have jointly enjoyed a highly varied and engrossing career in biophysical research over nearly 50 years. Our frequent changes of emphasis are tied together by two threads: first, by finding the right names, visualizations, and methods to help both ourselves and others to better understand the 3D structures of protein and RNA molecules, and second, by redefining the boundary between signal and noise for complex data, in both directions-sometimes identifying and promoting real signal up out of what seemed just noise, and sometimes demoting apparent signal into noise or systematic error. Here we relate parts of our scientific and personal lives, including ups and downs, influences, anecdotes, and guiding principles such as the title theme.
Richardson, JS; Richardson, DC
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