Metabolon is an art installation commissioned for Festival of the Mind 2016. It is based on the research performed by Dr Nate Adams and his colleagues from the laboratory of Prof. Neil Hunter FRS, in the department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield.

After their first successful art and science collaboration, the giant GFP Origami for Krebs Festival 2015, artist Seiko Kinoshita and scientist Dr Nate Adams have continued their conversation and developed artistic concept and design of Metabolon. On gaining funding from Arts Council England, Sheffield University, and BBSRC, they created the beautiful physical installation with artist Darren Richardson.


Metabolon was installed for 12 days in the Sheffield Cathedral.

Photos by Tracey Holland


Talking Metabolon

Building Metabolon



Metabolon is an interpretation of the sequence of events that takes place within every plant and photosynthetic organism, the construction of the green pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the chemical that is responsible for the greening of the planet. This pigment absorbs sunlight, and uses this energy to power photosynthesis. Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into sugars and more complex chemicals which are then used by other forms of life for survival. Without photosynthesis, complex life on Earth would not exist.

Chlorophyll is made inside a plant cell in a complex, multistep process. The pigment is built from simple molecular starting materials, passing along an assembly line of nano-sized machines called enzymes. These machines sequentially construct this light absorbing molecule. This process is the most productive biochemical pathway on the planet, with billions of tonnes of the pigment produced annually.

Research in the Hunter Laboratory has determined the enzymes responsible for chlorophyll biosynthesis. This ongoing research looks at how these proteins work cooperatively together to form this assembly line, known as a metabolon, with the products passing from one machine to the next.

The paper, acrylic and wooden central structure represents a cellular membrane. Many reactions that occur within the cell happen at or very close to the membrane. The dodecahedron origami structure represents the water loving head of a phospholipid membrane, with the hexagons being the water hating lipid (fat) tails. These 'membranes' which self-assemble are fluid and are constantly changing in shape. 8000 pieces of paper were folded 84,000 times to produce the membrane structure.

The geometric white steel structures are accurate representations of the enzymes which are responsible for constructing the chlorophyll, they are approximately one hundred million times 'larger than life'. The lighting (which has over 600 events) is powered by low energy LEDs and represents the cacophony of events occurring at the membrane. It is not a calm empty space within a cell.

Metabolon took 3 months to construct and 2 days to install in the Cathedral. The project was funded by Arts Council England, The University of Sheffield and Biological and Biosciences Research Council.


We are exploring funding opportunities to exhibit Metabolon around the country. If you have a venue which may be interested in hosting Metabolon, please contact Nate Adams