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What COVID-19 looks like as a stunning work of art

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If SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for causing COVID-19, became a piece of art, what would it look like? That’s the exact question that Laura Splan, a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, asked herself. It was early 2020 and Splan was in the midst of doing her second BioArt Residency with Integral Molecular, a biotechnological company based in Philadelphia, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. As an artist whose work often meshes science and art, Splan was in the right place at the right time and already had been shadowing a team of biotech scientists studying membrane protein antibody discovery.

“I was learning about their research and watching them do everything from bench lab experiments to molecular visualization, and they were very generous about explaining to me what they were doing and what some of the materials they were dealing with were,” she said. “This is how I started learning more about the use of llamas and alpacas in antibody production.”

Membrane protein antibody discovery involves isolating and manipulating specific parts of a cell to study the markers of disease and immunity. In the lab, the scientists were using PyMOL, an open-source molecular visualization system that’s commonly used by members of the science community. PyMOL maps the structure of viruses to develop potential treatments through the study of the antibodies of different species, such as llamas, alpacas, and chickens. During Splan’s visits to the lab, the scientists introduced her to the software, which she began applying to her own studio work.

Splan decided to target the antibodies of llamas and alpacas, two species that also happened to be the main focus of her........

© Fast Company

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