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August 18, 2009
Schematic Notation for Biology?
I see that there's a serious effort underway to standardize biochemical diagrams. About time! As a chemist, I don't mind admitting that I've been confused by many of these things over the years. As the current task force points out, one reason for that is that there are too many processes that all get drawn the same way: with a curved arrow. Enzymatic cleavage? Allosteric regulation? Product inhibition? Nucleic acid splicing? Enzyme activation? A curvy arrow should do nicely. And if the same scheme includes several of those phenomena at once, then we'll just use more arrows, making sure, of course, that they're all exactly the same size and style.
The new proposal seems to be based on the ideas behind electrical circuit diagrams and flow-chart conventions, and will attempt to convey information through several means (box shapes, arrow styles, etc.) I hope it, or something like it, actually catches on, although it'll take me a while to get used to translating it. Actually, what will take a while is getting used to the idea that biological diagrams are supposed to be imparting information at all. I've been trained in the other direction for too long.
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