For those curious to see how a healthy cell repairs DNA, you don't need to dust off your old microscope. Look instead to the ceiling of the Basser Research Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania, where they have turned the process into a more than 900-pound illuminated hanging sculpture named “Homologous Hope.”
You might say they literally shed light on three stages of the cell-repair process, using more than 600 programmable purple and green LED lights to show how BRCA2—a human gene that produces the tumor-suppressing proteins that help repair damaged DNA—works.
The sculpture uses a ribbon-diagram formation to illustrate how a healthy cell repairs the DNA that causes breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers. “It looks like a soft cloud at sunrise,” said the artist, Mara Haseltine, describing the piece. UPenn scientists worked together with Haseltine to create a sign of hope using science as a base. The sculpture was unveiled last week.
The title, “Homologous Hope,” is based on the concept of homologous recombination, which essentially describes the exchange of nucleotide sequences between two sister chromatids. “The hope part of the title is because, with enough research, we may be able to eradicate this problem in the future and bring hope to families and individuals worldwide,” said Haseltine, a Brooklyn-based artist known for her sculptural renditions of microscopic life forms.
Be prepared to pack your travel bag to see other examples of science turned into art by Haseltine.
In Long Island, you can check out “Waltz of the Polypeptides” at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a biology and genetics research institution. That sculpture depicts the process by which infection-fighting antibodies are stimulated in the body.
In Singapore, you might also check out “SARS Inhibited,” which portrays the active part of the virus, and is currently on display at Biopolis, a biomedical sciences research and development center.