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Sheffield Cathedral

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METABOLON : a visual journey through chlorophyll biosynthesis

Funded by Arts Council England, Sheffield University and BBSRC

Metabolon is an art installation commissioned for Festival of the Mind 2016. It is based on the research performed by Dr Nate Adams and his colleagues from the laboratory of Prof. Neil Hunter FRS, in the department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield.

After their first successful art and science collaboration, the giant GFP Origami for Krebs Festival 2015, Seiko and scientist Dr Nate Adams have continued their conversation and developed artistic concept and design of Metabolon. On gaining funding from Arts Council England, Sheffield University and BBSRC, they created the beautiful physical installation with artist Darren Richardson.

Chlorophyll is the chemical that is responsible for the greening of the planet. This pigment absorbs sunlight, and uses this energy to power photosynthesis. Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into sugars and more complex chemicals which are then used by other forms of life for survival. Without photosynthesis, complex life on Earth would not exist.

Chlorophyll is made inside a plant cell in a complex, multistep process. The pigment is built from simple molecular starting materials, passing along an assembly line of nano-sized machines called enzymes. These machines sequentially construct this light absorbing molecule. This process is the most productive biochemical pathway on the planet, with billions of tonnes of the pigment produced annually.

Research at The University of Sheffield has determined the enzymes responsible for this process. Here we represent the structures of the membrane and the protein machines responsible for this incredible process. This on going research looks at how these proteins work cooperatively together to form this assembly line, known as a metabolon, with the products passing from one machine to the next.

“The words 'Chlorophyll Biosynthesis' sounded already too complicated for me. I was fascinated by how Nate talks about his research enthusiastically and describes how during the process 'the proteins talk and dance together'! As a researcher, he often says how beautiful these things are for him in his mind's eye. We wanted to use this Cathedral setting almost like a theatrical space and create a visual journey as an art installation as we imagine Nate's nanobiological world. We tried to create an installation as simple and elegant as possible for this intricate world, normally invisible to the naked eye, hoping viewers will raise a question. ' What is this?' and step into his science world.”