21/02/2020 2 mins

When Science meets Art

As part of a novel research study combining biology and art, researchers from ANSES (INRAE-ANSES-EnvA joint research unit for molecular biology and parasitic immunology) and the SaBio research institute in Spain joined forces with several Mexican artists to explore the molecular interactions between a tick protein and the cellular proteins of the human host. Combining science with art, the artists modelled this molecular interaction in the form of pictorial works and musical scores. ANSES is inviting its readers to ‘see and listen to’ this alliance between science and art, expressed through this exceptional study, recently published in the scientific journal Vaccines.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first to show how art and science can be combined to provide a clearer understanding of the scientific challenges in different fields and contribute to social progress. From the standpoint of scientific researchers, art is a reminder of the power of curiosity. Although curiosity is always the driving force in research, it tends to get lost in the repetitive process of scientific research. At the same time, art encourages questions that are both pertinent and naive, two more qualities that are essential to scientific research. Art also helps to turn the spotlight on the social issues addressed by scientists.

With this in mind, a consortium of scientists from the SaBio research institute in Spain and ANSES (INRAE-ANSES-EnvA joint research unit for molecular biology and parasitic immunology – UMR BIPAR) joined forces with several visual artists and musicians from Mexico. Scientists and artists pooled their skills to characterise and model molecular interaction in an ectoparasite: the tick. In the study published by the scientific journal Vaccines, the authors followed a multi-disciplinary approach, combining scientific and artistic means to better understand the questions raised by the molecular interaction between proteins. To address this challenge, the authors adopted a novel method using as a model the characterisation of Akirin (AKR), a protein involved in the tick interactome (set of molecular interactions). The study explores the functional role of AKR in regulating NF-kB signalling pathways in human cells. The collaboration between scientists and artists led to two main methodological outcomes: (i) firstly, the production by visual artists of paintings showing previously unexplored properties of AKR, particularly in terms of dimerisation and assembly and (ii) secondly, the application of an algorithm using musical ensembles based on AKR and interacting protein sequences, as a new method to characterise protein-protein interactions.

This approach furthers our knowledge in the field of interactomics, showing in particular that the dimerisation / multimerisation of AKR proteins and their physical interactions with other proteins contribute simultaneously to regulating various biological processes defined by cell type-specific AKR2-protein interactions and to the role of these interactions in the positive and negative regulation of the NF-kB pathway. At the same time, characterisation of the AKR2 interactome may have implications in vaccinomics as a new approach to developing vaccines able to control vector infestations and infection, and transmission of vector-borne pathogens. This study shows that collaboration between scientists and artists can have a positive impact, contributing to biological knowledge, and even to the development of innovative methods of control.