Making Sense of Helices: Right and Wrong Models in Science and Art

Martin Egli and Shuguang Zhang, Making Sense of Helices: Right and Wrong Models in Science and Art. MOLECULAR FRONTIERS JOURNAL l Volume 7 l 2023, 22 July 2023; doi:10.1142/S2529732523500086


 Helices are ubiquitous in art and nature. Independent of their pitch and sense of rotation (handedness), helices in sculpture, painting, architecture, scientific illustrations, conference announcements, logos, and advertising are eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing. Helices can turn either clockwise (right-handed helix) or anti-clockwise (left-handed helix). The α-helix formed by l-amino acids and the double helices formed by β-d-2′-deoxyribonucleic acid (A- and B-form DNA) and β-d-ribonucleic acid (A-form RNA) are all right-handed. Artistic license provides the freedom to create helices of any shape and sense; indeed, many helical sculptures do not follow the natural convention observed in proteins and DNA. What is more surprising, given that models of the α-helix and the DNA double helix were published over 70 years ago, is how common left-handed DNA double helices are in the context of scientific papers and books as well as in popular science writing and reporting. In all cases except for left-handed Z-DNA, the use of left-handed helices in scientific illustrations or models is incorrect. Here, we revisit the helix types adopted by peptides, DNA, and RNA, and review examples of right and wrong helical models in science, art, and elsewhere.

Keywords : α-Helix; Double Helix; DNA; Left-Handed; Right-Handed; Peptide; Protein; RNA.

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