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A Picture Really is Worth 1000 Words

This hackneyed cliché is nowhere more evident than with the Penn Medicine 2014 “Art in Science” winners. They can certainly make pretty pictures with fancy microscopes, but there is also a rich story of scientific inquiry behind each.

Talamas winning image 2014Postdoctoral Fellow Category
Jessica Talamas, PhD/
Capelson Lab: Developmental Patterning in the Fruit Fly Imaginal Eye/Antennae Disc

Jessica Talamas, PhD, is a postdoc in the lab of Maya Capelson, PhD, assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. Talamas studies the proteins that make up the pore of the nucleus, the largest protein complex in a cell. Her winning image is of the imaginal eye and antennae disc from a fruit fly larva – the immature cell cluster that eventually becomes the adult eye and antennae. The blue is the DNA in cell nuclei and the green is the armadillo protein, part of the wnt/wingless signal pathway. This protein is highlighted because her research on the pore proteins asks how these are related to gene expression during development. Talamas mentions that having an artistic side helps her better “portray” research findings and that similar skills – “attention to detail, fine motor skills” – are also involved in her art, chiefly mosaics and textiles. This visualization skill is especially evident in two recent papers from her dissertation, one on nuclear pore assembly and another on the role of specific genes in pore function.

Graduate Student Category, co-winners:
Andrew Moore/Holzbaur Lab: Purple Flower: Mouse Neuromuscular Junction Stained with Snake Venom
Amanda Phillips-Yzaguirre/Speck Lab: Yolk Sac Vasculature

Moore winning image 2014The graduate student category had two winners this year. Andrew Moore is a first-year PhD student in the Neuroscience Graduate Group and still in the midst of his lab rotations. During his four-month stint in the lab of Erika Holzbaur, PhD, professor of Physiology, he made an image of a neuromuscular junction from the hind leg of a mouse while surveying the muscles of mutant and normal mice. His winning image shows a normal junction – green is the axon connecting, or synapsing, with the purple muscle. He used a neurotoxin called bungarotoxin that binds to receptors of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (and is derived from the common krait, a venomous snake from Southeast Asia) to activate a florescent molecule. This florescence helps outline the muscle-end of the synapse. The larger project he worked on studies the destabilization of the junction in neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. Moore is currently in his third lab rotation and will soon choose his PhD project and thesis mentor.

Phillips-Yzaguirre winning image 2014Amanda Phillips-Yzaguirre is a second-time winner of the Penn competition and is a graduate student in the lab of Nancy Speck, PhD, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. Phillips-Yzaguirre’s images of mouse embryos have been honored several times – the 2013 Penn “Art in Science” competition; an Image of Distinction in the Nikon Small World photo competition, and an Honorable Mention in the Olympus Bioscapes competition. Her winning image this year is yolk sac vasculature from a 10.5- day-old mouse embryo. The image is really a composite of 21 slices, or stacked images, with distinct colors for different layers within the tissue. Overlap between colors results in new colors: “When the red and green overlap, it produces the yellow-orange colors in the image,” explains Phillips-Yzaguirre, who is studying the role of Runx1 in the development of early blood cells. Speck notes “everyone can generate data, but not everyone can make pictures the way Amanda does.”


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