The science of autophagy: Creating understanding through artistic expression

November 12, 2013
Laurel Thomas

Click. Click. Click. Click.

Red spike heels punctuate the floor in unison as four “harpies” in vibrant shades of pink, yellow, blue and orange encircle the intended victim, the alien invader. Their sharp steps keep pace with driving music that sets a tone for the devouring that is about to begin.

A kaleidoscope of colors, abstract images and geometric patterns projected from on high down to a stage-within-a-stage define the boundaries of this choreographed conflict. The music becomes turbulent, dissonant as digestion begins.

The artistic work, not unlike many produced and performed at the University of Michigan, tells a story, complete with the classic elements of plot, character, conflict, theme and setting. In this depiction the characters are the elements of a cell and the setting is the human body. The plot involves a process called autophagy, and the theme addresses this complex function that the body goes through 365 days a year as each cell seeks to renew itself. Conflict comes when the process does not work as expected.

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