The Borden LacY Lab
Pathogenic bacteria have evolved a diverse array of mechanisms for delivering toxins and other virulence factors into the interior of host cells. Studying the molecular structures of these virulence factors alone and in complex with host receptors, membranes, and inhibitors can lend insight into how these delivery processes occur and how these processes can be exploited or prevented. Current research in the Lacy laboratory is primarily focused on the structure and function of large clostridial cytotoxins, including the two toxins responsible for symptoms in Clostridium difficile infection. Structural biology is combined with cellular and animal models of intoxication and infection to understand the toxin-host interaction at the molecular level. In addition, we aim to identify new toxin inhibitors using both rational design and high-throughput screening approaches.
Suggested Learning activities
Participating in the VI4 AiR program was my first real experience combining my interest in graphic design and my expertise in science. Throughout the 10-week program, I partnered with a lab to create the cover art to be published with two of their papers. My lab mentor, Borden Lacy with the Lacy Lab at VUMC, had a vision for a piece which combined the two papers and pointed out the similarities between the tiny protein structures in two bacteria. In my first drafts of the design, I created the outline of a person which zoomed in on the bacteria in their gut and lungs, but this ended up being a macroscopic view compared to the research being done at the lab. The post-doc also assisting with the project, Mike Sheedlo, provided me with very detailed structural images to play around with. I found a way to incorporate the actual structures by continuing with the "zoom-in" technique. The final piece aims to represent the similarities between the two structures of the unique bacteria in a very simplified and graphically minimal way. I enjoyed being able to apply my minimal design style to artwork which communicates science. Often times, scientists may incorporate a lot of jargon or detail when explaining the topics they spend countless hours researching. I was able to look at the Lacy Lab's work from a different lens and distill the information into a visually pleasing design to grab attention without overwhelming the viewer with too much detail. I am happy with the final product and I hope to continue developing my skill of communicating science through graphic design in the future!
Eve Moll - 2019 AiR Student
Eve Moll is an undergraduate senior at Vanderbilt University. She found her passion for art as a child. Growing up, Moll always had a pencil in hand. Through middle and high school, she took art classes at Lucy Saenz Art Studio in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Lucy trained her in pencil and oil paint using a regimen designed to teach proportion, light, and color. It took years for Moll to graduate from Lucy’s technique-building exercises, and she’s since been developing her artistic voice. Moll considers herself a figurative oil painter focused on human subjects, but still frequently uses pencils and other media in her work. She has sold her art at charity functions nationwide and has even dabbled in live painting.
Moll is also an eager biology student. She is double-majoring in Cellular & Molecular Biology and Communication of Science and Technology. She has participated in research in two fields. First, she has conducted biomedical research as a research student in the Sweatt lab, a neurobiology lab at Vanderbilt. Second, she has conducted clinical research as a research volunteer for Setting Scoliosis Straight, which supports the Harms Study Group, an international spinal deformity research group. Moll relishes seeing science-concepts come to life and learning new biological concepts.
Moll also enjoys exploring both art and science in tandem. She fuses her two passions through ArtLab, a program at Vanderbilt that explores the intersection of art and science. Through ArtLab, she’s created and shown artwork inspired by various science concepts to include epigenetics, immunology, medical imaging technologies, women in STEM, and more. Moll describes her artistic process as, “a lot of brainstorming upfront, then executing a well-thought-out image leaving some room for mistakes and surprises along the way.” She’s found that her process is consistent, and she employs this process in ArtLab projects and otherwise. Moll’s style, however, has adapted considerably to accommodate science-related topics. Her artistic style in the past has been extremely true to life. She used to measure how good her paintings were by how photographic they looked. But, as Moll points out, for many minute biological process, there is no photograph. These biological processes occur in a tiny, unknown world—almost an alternate universe. This allows her to become far more abstract and colorful in her renderings. Moll says she is free to get far more creative and leave more to the imagination when creating art-science.
In the Artist-in-Residence program, Moll was paired with the Lacy Lab to generate art inspired by the binary toxin of Clostridium difficile, a bacteria responsible for hospital-acquired infection in the United States. The binary toxin (CDT) has two proteins, CDTa and CDTb. CDTb forms a pore in a host cell, and the formation of this pore is the subject of exploration. The pore “zippers up” and injects itself syringe-style into the host cell membrane. Moll sought to capture this movement, and portrayed the transition of CDTb from pre-pore to pore state in an imaginative and visually-appealing way. Moll was incredibly grateful to work with mentors in the Lacy lab, who she says were enormously helpful in guiding the direction of the image and narrowing its focus. She celebrates that the Artist-in-Residence program recognizes scientists’ need for art, especially when seeking to engage a broad audience through a publication. Moll also notes that this program gives young artists like herself a platform to make and show art, a mentorship structure, and a reason to explore a scientific topic she otherwise may not have.
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