What are living bodies made of? Protein modelers tell us that our cells are composed of millions of proteins, intricately folded molecular structures on the scale of nanoparticles. Proteins twist and wriggle as they carry out the activities that keep cells alive. Figuring out how to make these unruly substances visible, tangible, and workable is a challenging task, one that is not readily automated, even by the fastest computers. Natasha Myers explores what protein modelers must do to render three-dimensional, atomic-resolution models of these lively materials. Rendering Life Molecular shows that protein models are not just informed by scientific data: model building entangles a modeler’s entire sensorium, and modelers must learn to feel their way through the data in order to interpret molecular forms. Myers takes us into protein modeling laboratories and classrooms, tracking how gesture, affect, imagination, and intuition shape practices of objectivity. Asking, ‘What is life becoming in modelers' hands?’ she tunes into the ways they animate molecules through their moving bodies and other media. In the process she amplifies an otherwise muted liveliness inflecting mechanistic accounts of the stuff of life.
Part One. Laboratory Entanglements
1. Crystallographic Renderings 35
2. Tangible Media 74
3. Molecular Embodiments 99
Part Two. Ontics and Epistemics
4. Rending Representation 121
5. Remodeling Objectivity 136
Part Three. Forms of Life
6. Machinic Life 159
7. Lively Machines 182
8. Molecular Calisthenics 204
Conclusion: What Is Life Becoming? 230
Appendix: A Protein Primer 239
"Bodies in motion—bodies of all kinds and at all scales—dance together in the act of coming to palpable, knowable attention. Further, mindful bodies think best and build richer worlds of knowledge and practice when play infuses work in the symbiosis called science. In this astute and beautifully written book, it is protein models and their people and machines that dance together, tuned to the visceral sensibilities, vital affections, and kinesthetic energies that make the sciences of molecular biology work. Rendering Life Molecular shows in just how many ways biology is a full-bodied practice. Readers will be excited in all the best ways."
Donna Haraway, author of
When Species Meet
"With a lively and engaging style, a commitment to a feminist and phenomenological analysis, and an extraordinary attention to the specificity of scientists' embodied, material, and affective engagement in the creation of knowledge, Natasha Myers takes the study of the biosciences in a new direction. Rendering Life Molecular expands the laboratory studies canon as it re-animates our sense of the dynamic contingencies and relationalities of all biological entities."
Lucy Suchman, author of
"Essential reading for those interested biopolitics, bioethics, science studies, and genetics, genomics, and the new omics."
Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa
New Genetics and Society
"One of the most exciting books published this year, Natasha Myer’s Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter, is an ethnography of protein modellers, the first such study of this new and central area of biological research."
The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
"Amplifying instances of haptic and creative thinking opens avenues for a different kind of science than one may find presented in popular media.... The result is not only intellectually invigorating but also abounds in amusing curiosities. One might say 'eye opening,' but in the spirit of the book, it would perhaps be better to say 'vivifying.'"
Jonathan G. Wald
"Rendering Life Molecular offers an engaging view into the world of scientists who describe the unseeable."
R. M. Denome
"Rendering Life Molecular is a thought-provoking book, a whirlwind ethnography pregnant with epistemological and empirical insights on movements, practices, knowledge and reasoning around proteins, which can and should inform future philosophical studies of modeling as well as STS work on experimental practices in and beyond biology."
"... logical, theoretically and methodologically iterative, and, most importantly, ethnographically rich and robust."
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute