In rope coiling contest, nature winds up the winner

Tall-ship sailors are adept at storing ropes. But nature does it better. Sailors leave a lot of unused space in the middle of their rope coils. New mathema-tical analyses show that the helical twists of DNA and proteins are the ideal shapes for packing rope-like structures.

Finding the best method for compact coiling is a classic puzzle. Amos Maritan, with the International School for Advanced Studies, and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, present new solutions to the puzzle in the July 20 issue of Nature. They note that evolution has already built these solutions into molecules.

Commenting on this, Swiss mathematicians Andrzej Stasiak at the Laboratoire d'Analyse and John Maddocks at the Federal Institute of Technology, both in Lausanne, Switzerland, ask: "Is this an insight or just a coincidence? We suspect it is the former."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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