I do hope you are wondering what this strange yet beautiful object is. It is certainly a work of art but it has taken science to create it. Here it is on display at the Melbourne Museum.
The Museum Label reads:
BEYOND ANTIBIOTICS 3D printed bacterial molecule perforin, on loan from Monash University, Melbourne. We can't keep using antibiotics forever. New antibiotics take years to develop and microbes can adapt within hours. Scientists have some new approaches: Molecular therapies, for example the way scientists are trying to replicate a molecule found in nature called perforin.It punches holes in certain harmful microbes to kill them. Immunotherapies encourage the immune system to recognise and kill the unwanted microbes. Phage therapies use phage viruses to infect and kill only target bacteria. In one curious 2016 case, a man fell into a coma from an antibiotic-resistant illness. Doctors used a mix of helpful phages extracted from sewage to fight the mysterious infection. When he woke he was shocked to find that he had been saved by sewage, and that Trump was now president.
Associate Professor Michelle Dunstone (daughter of A & R of Oakleigh) belongs to a team of modern day polymaths (Dr Bradley Spicer, Mr Charles Bayly-Jones and Mrs Sue Ekkel) who just like Leonardo da Vinci see the world through multiple perspectives and dimensions. Today we are going to step a little way into Michelle's field of biomedical research and through this gain a greater understanding of how art and science must go forward as partners if the world is to become a better place.
Associate Professor Michelle Dunstone, through the process of imaging the shape of proteins, has been able to make an important contribution to this field of science. She has been able to capture images that allow scientists to visualise the behaviour of "hole punching" proteins, called pore forming proteins.
As a molecular biologist, Michelle has been studying the structure of a class of proteins that create holes in the cell surface, resulting in cell death. She has captured world acclaim by imaging how these proteins work through X-ray crystallography Australian Synchrotron and single particle cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM) using the Ramaciotti Centre for Cryo-Electron Microscopy.
Michelle is fascinated with how pore forming proteins recognise their target cell, come together and then punch a hole into the cell. Here is a video of how the MACPF/CDC pore forming toxins work.
These pore forming proteins are used by the animal immune system to kill bacteria, virally infected cells and cancerous cells (Dudkina et al., Nature Communications, 2016; Spicer et al., Nature Communications, 2018). And bacteria use the same tools to kill our cells (Reboul et al., PLoS Comp Biology, 2014). They are also used by fungi to defend themselves against bacteria and nematodes (Lukoyanova et al, PLoS Biology, 2015) and animal venoms (Ellisdon, PNAS, 2015). In fact there are a lot of unknown functions of pore forming proteins (med.monash.edu.au).
It is not my intention to try to understand what Associate Professor Michelle Dunstone is doing though I am sure some of you have a better understanding than I do. But while Michelle is using structural biology to further her research in looking for cures for the worst diseases in our world, she and other researchers like her, are also creating beautiful artistic works of art.
A search of the internet reveals some prints made through X-ray Crystallography and cryo-EM for sale as works of art if you just happen to fancy having some of these incredible images on your walls.
Below are some examples for you to appreciate.
Follow this link to the on-line gallery of FineArtAmerica to feast some more on wonderful art images made by scientists.
And this is a model of how the MACPF protein domain is able to change shape. The red and yellow loops represent the region that can insert into the cell membrane thereby forming holes in the cell. (med.monash.edu.au)
One day when I met Michelle she was carrying this beautiful cat. When I enquired as to its history, Michelle explained that the material she is made from replicates the 2D image of protein when looking down a microscope. The cat was made by Dr Sara Lawrence who certainly has married art and science in a most creative and informative way. Who wouldn't want a toy cat made from images of protein?
Michelle does much of her work in Ramaciotti Centre for Cryo-Electron Microscopy, a world-class research facility located at Monash University (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia). Here she is hugging the microscope used to capture the images on the cat!!
And here is a link to the Biomedical Discovery Institute https://www.monash.edu/discovery-institute