Protein Portraits

         The aesthetic alchemy of life

2011 Protein Portraits Show

Protein:  Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4E

Artist:  Nicole Bauer

With elegant curling vines amongst green foliage, this plant jas been a timeless fixture in history.  The pea plant formed the foundations of our knowledge of genetics through Gregor Mendel, and it is still a central theme in science today.  The protein you see is the Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4E, and is of current interest in agriculture.  Peas Seed Borne Mosaic Virus (PSBMV) may distort crop yields of peas, but a mutant form of this protein has made the plant resistant to PSBMV.

Reference:  PDB ID 2WMC

Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4E

Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 4E

Protein: Spider Capture Silk

Artist: Kayla Bell

Picture a web spun between two leaves.  It was made with spider capture silk, a thin, flexible protein capable of remaining strong even under intense temperature, pressure, movement, and weight.  With these properties, it has the potential to become the next Kevlar or steel.  But don’t let the sturdiness fool you- a swirling mixture of alpha helices resembling silk itself forms this protein.  Next time you brush away a web in your path, remember the power put into this miniature display of art.

Reference: PDB ID 3LRD

Spider capture silk

Protein: Alpha amylase

Artist: Alexander Carsh

These enzymes, whose special domains
Consist of potatoes and grains,
Start breaking down starch
Into component parts,
To fuel people’s bodies and brains.

Reference:  PDB ID 1PPI

Alpha amylase

Protein: Prion and prion protein

Artist:  Nicole Chun

Is Betsy feeling a bit mooooody?  Perhaps she’s come down with a case of mad cow disease!  Also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad cow disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of cattle.  Infected cattle show behavioral changes, have difficulty standing and walking, and will lose weight without losing appetite.  By a process not completely understood, normal prion proteins, shown in yellow alpha helices and pink beta sheets, transform into abnormal prions.  These prions, represented by orange alpha helices and numerous red beta sheets, aggregate and give brain tissue its spongy appearance.  The bipolarity between a mad cow and a happy one couldn’t be more obvious!

Reference:  PDB ID’s 1DWY and 1TPX

Happy cow

Mad cow

Mad cow

Mixed breed

Mixed breed

Normal prion and diseased prion protein

Normal prion and prion disease protein

Protein: One-Humped Camel Derived GFP-Nanobody

Artist: Casey Kernan

Who knew that camels, dromedaries and llamas held the key (a very small one) to unlocking a number of scientific mysteries and medical advancements? In 1993, nanobodies, nearly a tenth the size of conventional antibodies were found circulating in the blood of these animals. Working similarly to a conventional antibody, nanobodies work in concert with the immune system, recognizing unique antigens and combating foreign molecules. I have depicted the green fluorescent protein (GFP) bound nanobody using pure technology: chips, wires and other internal computer bits. Technology, derived from the Greek word techno meaning “art, skill, craft” was an ideal media to portray the GFP-nanobody which has obvious ties to both science and technology. The future looks bright and green for the GFP-nanobody! Its potential role in effectively treating cancer, neurological and gastrointestinal disorders (to name a few) has deemed it a worthy pioneer of medical and technological research and advancement.

Reference:  PDB ID 3G9A

Camel derived GFP-Nanobody

Camel derived GFP-Nanobody

Protein:  The ribosome

Author: Elvis Nguyen

Where would we be without ribosomes? Ribosomes are biological structures in the cells consisting of 2 subunits and made up of lots of RNA and dozens of proteins. It reads incoming mRNA transcriptions and translates them into beautiful polypeptide chains. No other proteins would be possible without the “Mother of all Proteins.”

The Ribosome

The Ribosome

Protein: Ranasmurfin

Artist: Paulina Nguyen

Ribbet Ribbet Ribbet…the distant sound of frogs completely at home in their rainforest we hear all the time. However, such a setting could also be home to the tiny blue creatures known as the Smurfs.
When mating, the female excretes a protein-rich fluid that she, together with the male, whips into a sticky foam nest that is then stuck to a structure or plant overhanging a body of water. The dark greenish-blue color of the nests of Java whipping tree frog stems from ranasmurfin. Certain species of tree frog use biofoams to create nests for their eggs, protecting them from dehydration, predation, microbial infections, and other dangers.
The name of the protein itself already gives a hint as to the color of this protein – an odd electric blue that is characteristic of the playful cartoon Smurfs. In the rainforests of the Malaysia, the nests of these frogs are situated near the edge of the river where the young helpless tadpoles can swim to their new home under the safe cover of the blue foam.

Reference:  PDB ID 2VH3


Protein:  Newcastle Disease Virus F-Protein in the Post-Fusion Conformation

Artist:  Tamsen Polley

Exotic Newcastle virus (ENV) is a lethal and contagious antisense ssRNA viral disease of all birds, and an international threat to the agricultural poultry industry. Since this virus is only known to infect birds the bones are based on a chicken (Gallus gallus) skeleton, as are the feet. The F-protein is a trimeric surface glycofusion protein used by viruses in the Paramyxoareviridae family to fuse with host membranes. The F-protein changes from a pre- to a post-fusion structure upon binding.
Media: Firm super sculpey, foil, acrylic paint, and wire.

Reference: PDB ID 3MAW





Newcastle Virus F-Protein

Newcastle Virus F-Protein

Protein: Integrase

Artist: Erica Puopolo

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has had a large impact on our world in the past thirty years.  It is estimated that there are upwards of 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS and over 25 million have died AIDS related deaths. When the virus enters the body it attaches to the CD4 receptor of the helper T-cell. In my model, the globe represents a T-cell that has already been infected by the virus.  It is thus covered by pictures of people to show that HIV has left no gender, age, or ethnicity untouched.  These faces of the pandemic remind us that this widespread affliction cannot and should not be reduced to mere statistics.  Instead, I think it is important to remember that every person infected is a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a daughter, a son, or a friend to someone.  The syringe represents the CD4 receptor which HIV has used to enter the cell.  The syringe is also symbolic of the large role that intravenous drug abuse has played in the spread of the virus. Lethal red and black viral DNA is shown in the act of being combined with the blue and yellow host DNA by integrase, the enzyme which seals the fate of the cell. For it has now become a viral DNA lead workshop that will replicate and release more viruses to degrade the very immune system that is trying to fight against it.

Reference: PDB ID 1K6Y

1 am

1 am

6 am

6 am

10 am

10 am

HIV noon

HIV noon

Protein: p53 Tumor Suppressor

Artist: Connie Shen

Protections a special protein provide,
Protein Fifty-Three is cancer’s bane.
A guardian angel with her wings spread wide.


On your DNA, p53 sits astride,
And monitors your DNA for damages’ stain.
Protections a special protein provide.


p53 prevents unhealthy cells to divide.
DNA breaks found, its replication p53 will constrain.
A guardian angel with her wings spread wide.


Activation of DNA repair proteins p53 will then guide,
And they fix the breaks within the time domain.
Protections a special protein provide.


If damage is irreparable, the whole cell p53 sets aside
By activiating the apoptosis mechanism chain.
A guardian angel with her wings spread wide.


Cancerous tumors p53 does not abide.
Be it through DNA repair or sick cells slain,
Protections a special protein provide.
A guardian angel with her wings spread wide.


Reference:  PDB ID 1TUP

p53 Tumor Suppressor Protein

p53 Tumor Suppressor Protein

Protein: Oxytocin in Neurophysin

Artist:  Nicole Steigerwald

Depicted in beads of colored glass is the hormone oxytocin, bonded to its storage and carrier protein neurophysin.
Oxytocin has been called the “love protein” for its role in pair bonding and reproduction.  Research suggests that it is responsible for imprint bonding between mothers and babies, and also between men and women.  Eye to eye contact may be responsible for the stimulation of oxytocin release in each of these cases.  Because of its ability to encourage social interaction, oxytocin has been suggested as a treatment for autistic children to help them develop people skills.
Oxytocin also plays a big role in reproduction, it stimulates milk let down in lactating females, and also functions during parturition to prepare the uterus and cervix.  In human and veterinary medicine, it is used to induce labor and stop excess bleeding after a birth.

Reference: 1NPO

Oxytocin in Neurophysin

Oxytocin lying down

Oxytocin vertical pose

Oxytocin vertical pose

Protein: Immunoglobulin Gamma (IgG)

Artist: Anna Vigeland

The caduceus, depicting two serpents intertwined around a winged staff, has become familiar as a symbol of medicine and the doctors who practice it.  In our bodies, the agents that bring about recovery from illness by fighting infectious diseases are antibodies, immunoglobulin proteins, which bind to foreign antigens and allow them to be eliminated by other immune system actors.  Immuloglobulin gamma is a type of antibody which is secreted by active B-cells, and is the type received by fetuses and newborn infants from their mothers.  If there were a symbol representative of health and medical aid on the microscopic level, the characteristic twisted Y-shape of the immunoglobulin molecule would be it.

Reference:  PDB ID 1IGT

Immunoglobulin G

Immunoglobulin G

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