World Emoji Day on July 17 will be celebrated, alas, without an emoji for protein.
Singapore researcher Andy Tay recently revealed in an article in the journal Nature that he had tried and failed to get the emoji powers that be to add a protein structure to the catalog of hearts, faces and objects as random as a lacrosse stick. Sure, there’s already a twisted ladder DNA molecule, he says, but that doesn’t give protein its due.
“DNA is recognized as the language that encodes life, but proteins are the actual agents of life,” Tay wrote.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine tends to agree, saying proteins “do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.” And from the U.S. National Institutes of Health: “Proteins catalyze virtually all chemical reactions in the body, regulate gene expression, comprise the major structural elements of all cells, regulate the immune system, and form the major constituents of muscle.”
Clotting factors in the blood are proteins that prevent excess bleeding – and they’re what patients who have hemophilia are lacking. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system. Patients who have the rare disease Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency are lacking the AAT protein, which protects the lungs. The list goes on.
A fellow researcher in Copenhagen, Denmark, inspired Tay’s emoji quest after noting that an Internet search for protein generates only images of meat and nutrition-related content. Tay took a survey to get consensus on a helix and ribbon design to represent protein.
More than 3,600 emojis have made the cut so far, but few new emoji applications are successful. Last year, a group of physicians petitioned the Unicode Technical Committee for more medical emoji. There’s an anatomical heart and lungs; they wanted a spinal column, liver, kidney, intestines and a white blood cell. No luck.
For now, science and medical experts will have to enjoy the available microbe, test tube, petri dish, microscope and lab coat. It’s free to request new emoji and the newest additions – ginger root, shaking face, jellyfish and more – will be added in September.