Embracing the art of science

December 5, 2012, Tel Aviv University
Hearing and Deafness: Structure and Sequence, is an art work by Prof. Karen Avraham and Shaked Shivatzki. Credit: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Creativity is essential part for both art and scientific investigation. Two Tel Aviv University researchers recently embraced this truth to give birth to a new artwork based on their genetics research—and now it's won a top prize.

The fine arts and the exact sciences may appear an unlikely pair, but creativity is a crucial element in both. Prof. Karen Avraham and PhD candidate Shaked Shivatzki of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine embraced this truth when creating Hearing and : Structure and Sequence, their winning submission to the recent American Society of Human Genetics art competition. Their work was awarded first place and graces the cover of the society's most recent journal.

Their creation uses modern techniques in genetic diagnostics. An image of a mouse cochlea, with cells stained with antibodies to denote the different types of cells and their function in the ear, makes up the background. In the foreground are of a gene that, when mutated, causes deafness, which symbolizes deep sequencing, an advanced technique used to reveal variances in or RNA.

The contest rules were simple, explains Prof. Avraham—create a piece that combines genetics and art to reveal the aesthetic beauty in scientific research. "It's very important to teach the public about science, and one of the ways to do this is to show them the beauty of the field. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and can explain scientific concepts in a clearer way," she said.

This is Prof. Karen Avraham and Shaked Shivatzki of Tel Aviv University. Credit: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Beauty is truth ...

Essentially, the image is a tribute to deep sequencing, a technology used to describe the major components of the human genome, DNA. It's one of the most important tools in genetic diagnostics today, says Prof. Avraham, revolutionizing the hunt for . By finding the mutations responsible for human disease, scientists can diagnose disorders in a way that was impossible before. Israel has been one of the pioneering countries in the use of this technology.

Before deep sequencing, it would take a number of years and millions of dollars to sequence a genome. Now, it takes a matter of weeks, and can be done for the comparatively low cost of about $1,000. Not only does this mean greater access to genetic diagnosis, family planning, and medical management of disorders caused by genetic mutations, it also puts researchers on the right path in terms of developing therapeutic treatment.

The gene featured in the image is called Connexin 26. It is now known that mutations in this gene are the most common cause for deafness, found in about 30 percent of the hearing impaired population in Israel, says Prof. Avraham. Much of the early work in terms of diagnosing this mutation was done in Israel and at TAU, she adds. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health NIDCD and I-CORE Gene Regulation in Complex Human Disease.

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1 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2012
Meh. Weak points on composition and use of of shading (the image looks quite degraded) and this resolution is far too low for me to appreciate that which I presume is quite dense.
It still seems that for mainstream science art is reducible to images and aesthetics, and is therefore simply a method of rendering the products of science, not an enquiry in itself.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2012
picture is worth a thousand words, and can explain scientific concepts in a clearer way
My experience is, even the pile of fancy pictures and BBC animations didn't lead the layman people to better understanding of string theory - on the contrary. The pictures must be faithful physically for to have an explanatory effect - otherwise they're rather misleading. And I don't understand, how the composition of letters into picture of Connexin may explain something about it.
not rated yet Dec 06, 2012
i wonder who many Israelites have heard of Jacob Bronowski;

The picture looks like a genetic version of a spiral that appears on the cover of Hermann Weyl's "Symmetry" book; i doubt these two have even heard of Hermann Weyl!

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