Jessica Cascio - Lacy Lab

This summer I worked with the Lacy Lab at the VUMC to create a cover art for two papers they are publishing. Through their research, the lab found uncanny similarities between the membrane proteins of two bacteria (one that infects the stomach and one that infects the lungs). The cover art I created serves to start a conversation about the similarities between these two complex structures.

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.

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The artists

Jessica Cascio

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!

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