Ross Lab Makes Microtubule Pasta on Latest BiophysJ Cover

Jennifer Ross, an author on the latest paper to be featured on the Biophysical Journal cover, describes the background of the image below. After a split lab vote, Ross submitted two very different versions of the cover, and the Journal picked this version. The paper, “Mechanical Properties of Doubly-Stabilized Microtubule Filaments,” was co-authored by Ross, Taviare L. Hawkins, David Sept, Binyam Mogessie, and Anne Straube. For more from the Ross lab, visit the website.

bpj_104_7_coverThe entire image was created using Adobe Illustrator, with online images of stovetops and kitchens as inspiration for the background. It was easy to depict the microtubules after years of making microtubule images for papers, talks, and proposals. Each component is just a shape or line, and we used some of Illustrator’s built in effects to make things look a bit more three-dimensional and cartoonish.

The image is an analog of our research published in this issue. We are working on the mechanical properties (flexibility of stiffness) of microtubule filaments. Whenever we describe filament mechanics in lectures, we also describe spaghetti because it is an everyday substance, and it actually changes its flexibility upon cooking. So, when it came time to make a cover, we automatically went to the spaghetti analogy.

In the lab, we make our measurements by determining the shape of filaments fluctuating under Brownian motion in a thin chamber. Thus, we had to have some microtubules fluctuating in a boiling pot of water. The filaments in the glass jars on the counter are different types of microtubules that have different intrinsic flexibilities, so you can see the GTPγS microtubules are bending down under gravity, but the stiff GMPCPP microtubules are rigid. We have also added proteins (Tau and MAP4), which we show as spices that can be added to the microtubule pasta. All experiments are also performed in the presence of a small molecule chemotherapeutic drug, Taxol, which we show as the tomato sauce (or “gravy” as it is called in some parts of the US) often found on pasta.

In the background, you can see our actual data results displayed as decorative tiles on the backsplash of the kitchen behind the counter and stovetop.

I have a cartoonish style of creating cover art that is clear in this cover as well as our last cover. I like to create art that incorporates the message of the science in an illustrated manner, while still portraying some of the data that we collected.

Although I don’t consider myself an artist, I also don’t think you can put boundaries between different types of creativity. Creativity can come in all forms – scientific inspiration, experimental design, and artistic expression in design or even song. Scientists are not only one thing and can have multiple passions. In fact, I think that artistic expression enhances scientific creativity. I really like that science gives me the ability and avenues to continue to be artistically creative in my talks and lectures, in my papers, and by submitting cover art, such as this.

Each paper has its own story to tell, so I cannot presume to know what that will be before we measure, analyze, write, and get new science accepted. Only nature can reveal the results that we measure, but I will definitely be there to interpret the results pictorially to the best of my abilities.

Biophysical Journal is my favorite journal – my first paper as a graduate student was in BJ and my first paper completely from my own lab was also in BJ. Getting a paper in this journal is like coming home, and I love to show my support and creativity in cover designs. I plan to hang a framed version of the cover on my office wall next to my past cover and my recent award from the Biophysical Society. I have a little shrine to biophysics in my office.

Jennifer Ross

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