As hard as this is to believe, you're looking at one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century, and it's currently on display at London's Science Museum.

It may look like a scatological avante garde sculpture, but it's actually a physical representation of the myoglobin molecule, an iron and oxygen binding protein found in the muscle tissue of animals. It's also the molecule that gives meat its red color.

It's historic because myoglobin was the first protein to have its three-dimensional structure revealed. Back in 1958, John Kendrew and his colleagues created this model by using high-resolution X-ray crystallography — a nifty piece of work that earned him the 1962 Nobel Prize in chemistry.


Kendrew's worm-like structure provided only a crude outline of the protein chain that folds up to give myoglobin its form. As biologist Stephen Curry notes, subsequent work revealed coils within the gelatinous coils — the helical trace of the polypeptide — and the atomic details of the flattened porphyrin molecule that myoglobin clasps to its bosom. And at the centre of the porphyrin, you can see the iron atom which provides the binding site for oxygen.

Source and images: Stephen Curry via Guardian.