A Watery World Depicts the Protein Hemocyanin

Cover of the Aug. 3rd Biophysical JournalFrancesco Spinozzi and Mariano Beltramini, authors of the article featured on the cover of the August 3 issue of Biophysical Journal, explain the water world depicted in the cover artwork. The image is from the article QUAFIT: A Novel Method for the Quaternary Structure Determination from Small-Angle Scattering Data. The image was prepared by Andrea Pagnoni, an expert in digital picture.

The paper is highly representative of our research field, where physical techniques based on X-ray and neutron radiations are applied to find the molecular structure of complex biological machines, the proteins, in the same environment where they usually play their role, i.e. in water solution. When we started to think about the cover, the first idea was to communicate a water world, where the contours of the objects are almost blurry and undefined. Indeed, in the background of the cover we have placed a typical image of a two-dimensional radiation detector, represented in a blurred way, as it would be seen by a human eye if it was under the sea.

We have studied the protein hemocyanin, which is a giant enzyme used by the octopus to breathe, so it was straightforward to put the image of a live octopus, swimming into the ocean. Because we are scientists, we wanted to include the main result achieved in our study on the cover – that is, the three-dimensional structure of the protein, which is far from fixed, but depends on the composition of the water solution. The hollow cylinder structure in the right bottom is the active form of the enzyme, which is due to the association of ten monomers. The six pearl necklace views in the top right shows the fluctuating shape of the monomer when the enzyme is dissociated. To give the impression that such giant molecules are in water solution, we added their blurred shadows.

We considered it important for our research group to take the opportunity to submit a cover to help increase the visibility of the article. We consider Biophysical Journal one of the most known and prestigious journals available for the international community of biophysicists.

We do not consider ourselves as artists, because we have not developed any artistic skills. However, it is important for science to communicate its own results to the public opinion, because any person needs to know what reality is and how, through a shared knowledge, it is possible to find solutions that improve the conditions of humans and of their environment. The art, which is a universal language, can be one of the most direct ways to communicate science to a wider public.

– Francesco Spinozzi and Mariano Beltramini

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