Israeli researchers Prof. Karen Avraham and PhD candidate Shaked Shivatzki of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine meshed the fine arts with exact sciences to create the winning submission to the recent American Society of Human Genetics art competition.
Their project — Hearing and Deafness: Structure and Sequence — 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 genetic mutations.
The contest rules were simple, says 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 says.
The work shows 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 DNA sequences of a gene that, when mutated, causes deafness, which symbolizes deep sequencing, an advanced technique used to reveal variances in cellular DNA or RNA. It was awarded first place and graces the cover of the society’s most recent journal.
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.