Process Art, a Dish Best Practiced Cold: Cell Stories Update 4

What do mitochondria and stories have in common? Read how we continue to hone several cellular processes into a cohesive process that generates a story. This week we discuss the latest developments of our newest piece, Cell Stories.

This is the fourth post discussing the development of our newest process art piece, Cell Stories. For more background on the first piece that started it all, check out Protein Poems. For more information on the complete process, read our last post here. Learn more about how the idea started and moving from the drawing board to practicing Cell Stories.

So, as we all know, the summer is a great time to go out swimming, camping, kayaking, etc. But, when it comes to coordinating the development of a new project, it’s a bit more of a struggle. The last several performance pieces had all started in the fall and developed in the winter, with spring performances. But this time for Cell Stories, we started working on this in Fall 2016 and at the time the piece felt a little unwieldy, so we tabled it in favor of trying to formalize the organization. Then during Spring we really started talking about how Cell Stories would work. Now we’re in the middle of Summer and it’s been difficult to coordinate with everyone for weekly meetings. And we changed our normal meeting time. Then on top of all that, Stinson Seuser was feeling a little dismayed with us being the only ones available the last two weeks, but I wasn’t worried about how many people could practice this weekend. We needed to finish building out the rest of our model.

The Problem

The last time we had actually met as a group, we had gotten up to practicing the Mitochondrial Ribosome’s role of taking a transcript of ‘energetic conversations’ and transforming it into usable transitions between the plot points in our story (learn more about how Cell Stories works here). Riley Webb, who had first played the role of Mitochondrial Ribosome, said that the main problem with his job was how poorly defined it was (we’d just asked him to pull transitions). So while we’re still working on fine-tuning the role of the Mitochondrial Ribosome, Riley is a popular guy and we’be struggled to get together and figure out the rules of this job together. But we still didn’t really know how the Lysosome or Mitochondria would work together to create the transitions and that meant we had no idea how we’d go from a really rough narrative to a decent rough draft.

But as Stinson and I were talking, we both realized a huge disconnect. He didn’t realize that our mitochondria have their own mitochondrial genetic code that creates their own mitochondrial proteins.  These mitochondria are only passed down from mother to child. This allowed scientists to trace all of humanity back to a single Mitochondrial Eve, the single woman who is the progenitor of all living people today. So this was how the long lesson on mitochondria began and boy was I about to take Stinson on a wild (mildly inebriated) ride.

The Process

Back when we’d started building out our initial model of Cell Stories, we’d turned to the basic model of the cell to first identify which organelles we wanted to use (learn more about the specific role each organelle plays here, the remainder of the article will be very confusing if you’re not comfortable with the model). This helped us start differentiating the different parts of the story, since we knew cilia used Microfilaments to move, this seemed a natural fit for writing the basic Plot Points that drive a story forward. And so we’d wash, rinse, and repeat for most of the other organelles below, and our basic model was finished. (We aren’t currently using Chromatin nor have we differentiated rough endoplasmic reticulum (ER) from smooth ER. However we are using the Peroxisome!)

Illustration showing the structure of a cell

So now our challenge was to do the same for the Mitochondria, Lysosome, and Mitochondrial Ribosome. The roles for the Mitochondrial RNA Transcriptase and Pseudopods were pretty easy, simply transcribe the relevant material (e.g. excited conversations and music lyrics/recipes). But for the other three roles, we needed to carefully define rules to craft our Transitions between Plot Points. So we turned to the central processes involved in making energy in the cell: Glycolysis, Krebs Cycle, and the Electron Transport Chain.

Occurring within the cytoplasm of the cell, Glycolysis is the process of breaking glucose into two pyruvate. The pyruvates move to the Mitochondria for use in the Krebs Cycle to drive the reaction of NAD+ -> NADH and FAD -> FADH2 and store energy in the resulting 3 NADH AND 1 FADH. The Electron Transport Chain (ETC) then uses the energy from NADH and FADH2 to move protons into the intermembrane space between the Mitochondria’s outer and inner membranes. This creates a high proton (H+) concentration within the mitochondria. This proton gradient drives the production of ATP, by creating energy when the protons cross back over into the inner membrane space through ATP Synthase. After all is said and done, a single glucose molecule generates between 32-34 ATP from Glycolysis and the ETC.


Copyright 2010. Nature Education,

As Stinson and I were talking about the Krebs Cycle and how pyruvate was used there, Stinson stopped me. He started explaining that the pyruvate kind of becomes a template for generating NADH and FADH.  I jumped up and started writing fervidly on a white board, the ideas started washing over me and I was almost a little too excited to get them on the page.

The Performance

Our model starts by combining the processing of other food and nutrients with glycolysis. This is the responsibility of the Lysosome. Glucose has ~540 protons, neutrons, and electrons, so the Lysosome will write segments of 540 characters. These will be divided into two parts of 270 characters, Part A and Part B, to signify glucose being divided into 2 pyruvate and sent to the Mitochondria.

So the first job of the Mitochondria will be to take each 270-character long ‘pyruvate’ and write 4 different rough draft transition statements, just like there are 3 NADH + 1 FADH. So Part A will be used to make Part AI, Part AII, Part AIII, & Part AIV and Part B will be used to make Part BI, Part BII, Part BIII, & Part BIV.

Then the Mitochondrial Ribosome will use a transcript of a conversation, provided by the Mitochondrial RNA Transcriptase, to craft segments of Potential Transitions. Each Potential Transition will be one of 4 lengths based on either ELTH, complex I, complex II, complex III, or ATP Synthase. This will generate several half-baked transitions and content relevant to specific plot points, we’ll call these Mitochondrial Proteins.

The Mitochondria’s second job will be to take each iteration of Parts A & B (8 in total) and then make 4 different additions from the Mitochondrial Proteins (or Potential Transitions written by Mitochondrial Ribosome). An addition is the insertion of anything from the Mitochondrial Ribosome or from the Cell Ribosome (who writes the character sheets). It can be any length, but must make sense. The Mitochondria must then make one removal from the new transition as well, since there is net proton movement of 4:1 during the ETC.

Each of these Transitions will be tied to specific Plot Points within our Story Skeleton (written and organized, respectively, by the Microfilaments and Microtubules), starting with the content written by the Mitochondrial Ribosome and Lysosome. The Mitochondria will be able to see the Rough Narrative, written by the Endoplasmic Reticulum. This way the Mitochondria can see the arc of our tale and craft their Transitions so that the whole story makes sense.

We are going to be practicing the Mitochondria and Golgi Apparatus soon, turning our Rough Narrative into a Rough Draft. Then we’ve gotta figure out how the Cell Membrane is going to massage our story into something really worthwhile, with the editing help of the Peroxisome. Let us know if you have any ideas on our process or like this post! Until next time, be well!

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