Winning molecular image design captures deadly “beauty” of a toxic protein
A Bachelor of Science student’s submission of a paradoxical molecular image, inspired by a Shakespearean tragedy, has won him the judges’ accolades in this year’s student molecular image design contest.
Emerging as the overall winner of the contest this year, Vivek Narotam said that he decided to enter the contest as it was an opportunity to be creative and think out of the box.
His winning image of the deadly verotoxin (shiga-like toxin) – aptly named “Duplicity” – not only reveals the snowflake-like beauty of the molecule, but is also a reminder of its sinister nature and debilitating effects on humans.
“Verotoxin is often found in cattle faeces – an easy way to target humans,” said Mr Narotam in his submission.
“Interfering with protein creation in kidney and gastrointestinal tract blood vessels, this deadly protein leaves none unharmed.”
Quoting from a paradox in the famous Shakespearean play Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (Act 1, Scene 1), Mr Narotam said that the image of the verotoxin reminded him of the play’s themes of duplicity and how appearance does not necessarily reflect reality.
“Similarly, whilst verotoxin has a beautiful structure, deception and toxicity are its true properties,” he said.
The annual competition, sponsored by SCMB and the UQ Molecular Biotechnology Students Club (UQ-MBioSC), encourages students to use visualisation software to design an interesting image of a structure from a protein database.
“I decided to use the PyMol program for my submission,” said Mr Narotam.
“Whilst PyMol was at first complicated to use, with the help of online resources, I was able to represent the molecule to my liking.”
For his winning entry, Mr Narotam will receive a double gold class movie voucher, a $20 Coles Myer gift voucher, and a certificate from UQ-MBioSC.
Mr Narotam, who is also the current Academic Vice President of the UQ Premedical Society, and an SCMB Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) Leader, said that he has career ambitions in the biomedical sciences.
At the same time, he intends to continue to stay in touch with his creative side.
“My creative output lies in music,” said Mr Narotam.
“I’ve been playing piano since I was five, and I also play the drums and sing Indian classical vocals when I’m not studying for my anatomy spotter exams.”
Image: Vivek Narotam on campus in the Science Learning Centre, Priestley Building