The Atlantic

Decoding the Origami That Drives All Life

“Proteins are built to a precision that would make human engineers blush—every atom is always in exactly the right position.”
Source: Yuriko Nakao / Reuters

Robert Lang is a master of origami, known for his elegant and almost impossibly accurate sculptures. On his website, you can find his “crease patterns”—all the folds that go into his compositions, drawn out on flat sheets of paper. The patterns are beautiful in their own right, not least because it is almost impossible to look at one and divine what it will eventually become. How could you ever guess that this would become a beetle, or that this folds into a rhino, or that this is a tarantula-in-the-making?

That challenge, incidentally, is exactly what many scientists have struggled with for decades, because life—all life—depends on origami.

Specifically, it depends on proteins—essential molecular machines, which do all the critical jobs that keep us alive. They’re built according to instructions encoded in our genes, which are used to assemble a long sequence of building blocks called amino acids

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Devin Nunes Is Living in a Fantasyland
The representative’s claims about stories reporting on the Trump administration are part of a universe of untruth.
The Atlantic7 min read
‘I Felt I Didn’t Deserve to Be Unapologetically Joyous’
Kesha opens up about being back to party-animal mode despite her ongoing struggle with the producer Dr. Luke.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Here’s What Should Disqualify Michael Bloomberg
New York’s stop-and-frisk policy is just one example of the former mayor’s lack of respect for civil liberties.