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Proteins

Nuclear Window.  Oil on canvas, 40" x 30", 1990, Private collection.

The nucleus of a cell is made of a network of proteins. This painting was inspired by an image of one such protein, stained and viewed through a microscope. The pores may be places where other proteins attach. The protein may be a structural one that keeps the nucleus a more stable spherical shape.

Inspirational image from "Interphase nuclear envelope lamins form a discontinuous network that interacts with only a fraction of the chromatin in the nuclear periphery.", Paddy MR; Belmont AS; Saumweber H; Agard DA; Sedat JW, Cell 1990 Jul 13;62(1):89-106.

ClockGene

Dance of the Clock Gene Proteins.  Oil on Canvas, 36" x 42". Private collection.

 

The figures are inspired by vase paintings from ancient Greece, and seals from Sumer. They dance around a very old sundial inspired by the Chaldean hemicyclium. There are twelve dancers, who represent various proteins that become active at specific times of the day or night in order to regulate our circadian rhythm. The sky was divided into twelve parts during the time of Ahaz in Egypt when the Chaldeans were perfecting their sundial. This lead to the division of the day into twelve parts as well (Sundials; History, Theory and Practice by Rene' R.J. Rohr).This painting was a special commission by Louis Ptacek.

Manjushri as topoisomerase, Untier of DNA Knots.  3' x 4', oil on canvas, 1997. Private collection.

 

Topisomerase is a protein that is found inside the cells in our bodies, inside the nucleus. When a cell is in between divisions, the DNA of the cell is relaxed, looking much like a bowl of spaghetti. When it is time for the cell to divide, the DNA tightens up into its respective chromosome. Sometimes, a knot has formed in a strand of DNA, preventing it from moving where it needs to go. This protein detects such knots, cuts the DNA at the knot, unties the knot, and attaches the DNA ends back together. Manjushri is, in part, a God of knowledge. His sword cuts through untruths, and heals on the way out.

Lilith in a Colicin Crystal, mixed media,  3' x 4', 1996.  Private collection.

 

A protein crystal structure composed of Lilith figures. Her arms, hair, and serpent tail form a relationship like that of the Colicin IA molecule when it is crystallized. Colicin is a long protein harbored by bacteria. A single molecule of it can be directed at a neighboring bacteria and kill it with a kind of punture wound. Lilith has similar potency.

Consultation for painting science with Robert M. Stroud. Paper: "Crystal structure of colicin Ia.", Wiener M; Freymann D; Ghosh P; Stroud RM , Nature 1997 Jan 30; 385(6615):461-4

Ishtar

The Descent of Ishtar into the Underworld through the Ancient Gates of an Aquaporin Glycerol Channel.  Oil on canvas, 33” x 44”, 2000. Private collection.

 

Ishtar was a goddess in the times when dreams were just as important as the waking reality; prophetic and real. Her story is revealed to us on clay tablets(1), the earliest version from around 1,600 B.C, unearthed in modern day Iraq. Written in cuniform, the oldest known written language, her ancient story presented itself to me during my search for an analogy between a most ancient biological gate and a mythological counterpart. This biological gate is found in membrane proteins that allow only water or glycerol to cross the membrane and enter a cell, and has been conserved for over four billion years.

 

 

A small handful of amino acids compose this gatekeeping system, and every species which contains a protein for conducting water or glycerol into a cell also contains this gateway package of amino acids. The first structure to be determined for this kind of channel was for a protein called the GLPF receptor (glycerol facilitator protein)(2). This protein is represented here, where the pillars of the channel in the painting mimic the arrangement of the seven helices which compose the GLPF receptor, with two of the helices stripped away to reveal the inside of the channel. The stairway portrays the connections between the helices that allow specific molecules to enter the channel, and the ancient gate is shown in its amino acid structure on the stairway.

 

 

In the Ishtar story, her descent into the underworld is strikingly enzymatic. She must pass through seven doors, losing a piece of clothing at each door, until she arrives naked into the underworld. Glycerol is like food for a bacteria, and once it passes through the gates of the GLPF receptor, it enters the cell to be broken down and digested into its various components. Ishtar descends the staircase and passes through the gates to enter the underworld using the same route a glycerol molecule would travel through this structure.

 

(1) “Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh and Others”, by Stephanie Dalley, 1989, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-283589-0

 

(2) “Structure of a glycerol-conducting channel and the basis for its selectivity”, Science, 2000 Oct 20;290(5491):481-6 . Fu D, Libson A, Miercke LJ, Weitzman C, Nollert P, Krucinski J, Stroud RM. 

Nerve Eye on Channel Two.  30 x 40, oil on canvas, 1992. Private Collection.

Nerve eye on channel two is a nerve ion channel, too. The neurons in our brain have many ion channels, which control the firing of neurons. An ion channel is a barrel shaped protein that allows small molecules, ions, to pass from outside of a cell to inside a cell, or vice versa. The brain contemplates this phenomenon.

Model of Ion Channel courtesy Robert Stroud Lab and Julien Chen, UCSF.

Cell Signals and Mayan Legends, mixed media, 26" x 33", 2001.  $900 plus tax and shipping.

(The long title Mayan Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalnque as E2F and DP Receiving the Message to Begin Transcription for a New Cycle of Cell Division). The first in a series, this painting shows the beginning of a cycle of cell division juxtaposed with a Mayan story about the hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalnque. Both stories have a similarly indirect way of getting their messages from one place to another.

In the legend, the hero twins are playing ball and are making such a racket, the underworld lords decide to summon them to the underworld and challenge them to a more dangerous game of ball with them. The send owls to deliver their message. This message goes from the owls to the house of their Grandmother. She gives the message to a louse. A toad eats the louse to carry the message faster. The toad is swallowed by a snake to bring the message even faster. Then a falcon eats the snake and carries the message via air to them. They see the falcon, shoot him in the eye to bring him down, and in return for fixing his eye he spits up the snake. The snake spits up the toad, who spits up the louse, who finally relays the message.

Before a cell will divide, a message must get to the nucleus of the cell. A growth hormone reaches the outside of the cell and binds to the receptor tyrosine kinase (blue house structure). This attracts the protein grb2 (grandmother) to the internal portion of the receptor. grb2 interacts with the protein sos (louse) which binds to the protein ras (toad). A kinase cascade is then triggered into action (snake) which ultimately causes the production of cyclin D/kinase in the nucleus of the cell (falcon). This causes the protein pRB (the ball) to be removed from the e2f/dp complex, which allows them to participate in transcription of the proteins necessary for cell division.

Tyrosine kinase receptor image courtesy of Moosa Mohammadi, NYU. E2F/DP consultation Jacqueline Lees. Ras and Sos consultation J. Kuriyan and L. Leighton. pRB image by permission "Structure of the retinoblastoma tumor-suppressor pocket domain, HPV E7" from Jie-Oh Lee, Alicia A. Russo and Nikola P. Pavletich, Nature. 1998 Feb 26;391(6670):859-65. 2erk from the protein databank , "Phosphorylated Map Kinase ERK2", B.J.Canagarajah ,E.J.Goldsmith. Cyclin A from 1fin from the protein databank, P.D.Jeffrey, A.A.Russo,N.P.Pavletich. RasMol used to create PDB protein images. Translation of the "Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life", by Dennis Tedlock, Simon & Schuster Trade, 1995, ISBN: 0684818450

"The Transportation of Gilgamesh through an Ammonia Channel Into
the Garden of the Gods", mixed media, 24 x 30, 2004.


The ammonia channel is one of the most ancient proteins conserved among species.  The story of Gilgamesh is the oldest written story that we know of, found on clay tablets  written somewhere around 2750 and 2500 BCE.  In his search for everlasting life, Gilgamesh comes to Mashu "the great mountain, which guards the rising and setting sun," represented here by the Ammonia Channel AmtB.  The tunnel to the underworld is guarded by two scorpions.  These are placed in the entrance and exit to the channel of the protein, allowing only  Ammonia to pass through.  Gilgamesh arrives, and symbolizes the ammonium ion.  He is transformed into ammonia and allowed to pass through. Once on the other side he becomes himself again - the ammonium ion - and enters the rich world of cellular metabolism, where ammonia first played a key role in the origin of life.

RaSunrise

The transportation of Ra through a Vault Protein. Egg tempera and oil on board, 33 x 44 inches, 2001. Private collection.

The transportation of Ra through a Vault Protein out of the Night Sky and into the Birth of the Sunrise.  

Egg tempera and oil on board, 33 x 44 inches, 2001.  In the ancient Egyptian legend, “The Regions of Night and Thick Darkness”, Ra, the sun king, dies each night and makes a journey in his “Boat of Millions of Years” through the otherworld of the night sky. After traveling through twelve regions of the underworld country, Duat, each guarded by a gate and a terrifying snake, he is once again reunited with his soul in the form of the scarab beetle, Khepera. The sun king is thus alive again, and a new sunrise is born.

 

 

This mysterious process of daily transport to create the cycle of night and day is shown here inside of a capsule-like particle composed of proteins called “the vault”. The function of the vault particle is still a scientific mystery, although there is some evidence that it is involved in cellular transport. The structure of the vault is a “hollow, barrel-like structure with two protruding caps and an invaginated waist”. In this painting we are inside of a vault particle looking out through one of its end caps. At the caps of the structure there are 12 RNA strands of a very special type, similar to the telomeres at the endcaps of chromosomes (pieces of DNA which help protect the chromosome and keep the ends from fraying). The night sky was considered a vault by ancient peoples that did not realize the earth was round.

 

 

This story may be found in "Legends of Ancient Egypt", by M.A.Murray, Dover Publications, Inc., 2000, ISBN 0-486-41137-0. Inspired by the papers "Structure of the vault, a ubiquitous cellular component", Lawrence B Kong , Amara C Siva , Leonard H Rome and Phoebe L Stewart , Structure 1999, Vol 7 No 4; and "RNA location and modeling of a WD40 repeat domain within the vault", Lawrence B. Kong, Amara C. Siva, Valerie A. Kickhoefer, Leonard H. Rome, and Phoebe L. Stewart , RNA(2000), 6:890–900+

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