Metabolic pathway diagrams: beautiful headaches

Living things are bags of chemicals. But of finite amount and assortment. So what if they need different ones than what they can ingest? Good thing metabolism's there to chop, skrew and otherwise re-work all those molecules into new ones that keep life humming. These mechanisms are pretty complex and, as I was chuffed to find, plotted using the nuttiest possible diagrams.

First up on our tour of science as debased aesthetics: the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes, an exhaustive and continually updated database of metabolic how-this-becomes-that. Below are three KEGG overview maps:

Clicking on nodes in the live diagram show you the actual compound in that step, and poking around the main site gets you stuff like the following. Call Muji, I got next season's gift wrap pattern on lock.

All easy enough except for "Glycan Composite Structure Map." Kind of vague.

Now for the big metabolic enchilada: Gerhard Michal's seminal "Biochemical Pathways," a stupendously comprehensive map of bacterial, plant and animal metabolic processes. First published in 1968, and Roche used to send it as a free poster if you asked them. Life is terrible so they don't do that anymore. But this blogger stitched together the digital tiles supplied by this exploratory tool, so you can see the whole grand mess at once. Big ups to effort.

Sweet sassy molassey is that a chart. What's it for? Apparently undergrad torture, as luminary bioinformatician (what's the proper title here?) Martin Krzywinski told me that "my old metabolism course was essentially an exercise in memorizing this chart. For three credits." Michal's cruel maze withstood the test of time! Though nowadays it's helpfully diced up and bound in a textbook, an easier format if you don't have a ballroom in which to lay the full chart.

Yeah, yeah, there's beauty in simplicity, but minimalism doesn't get you the secrets of the innerverse. Thanks Gerhard. And don't mind the third year biochem students, they'll get over it.