Image of person wearing mask made of cell structures

BITS – Coronavirus CellPAINT Contest

In ALL, BITS by McKenzie Prillaman

As the coronavirus swept across the globe this spring, the Scripps Research Center for Computational Structural Biology in association with the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank drew attention to the virus’s structure through art.

They hosted a coronavirus image contest for illustrations created using CellPAINT, a software for drawing cellular and viral systems. Images could be submitted under the science category, in which drawings needed to accurately depict the coronavirus’s structure and biology, or the art category, in which images could be anything that amazes and inspires.

After receiving “dozens of entries…from around the world from middle school students to professionals,” the winners for each category were announced in June.

Image of person wearing mask made of cell structures
Heroes of hope by Kanika Khanna, Best in Art winner

“The contest came forth at a time when almost everyone is struggling with the changes accompanying the pandemic,” says Best in Art winner Kanika Khanna. “Each of us are grappling with one or another grief and ‘hoping’ for something good to happen. This contest was a way for me to get out of my own grief and create something that would be a source of joy not only for me but may be someone else out there as well.”

She explains, “Who better to dedicate this creation to other than our ‘Heroes of hope’, the health care workers at the front line who are fighting the pandemic day in and day out, without any selfish motives? Putting their lives at risk, away from their families, I can’t even begin to imagine the agony they must be going through.”

Coronavirus illustration near surface of cell
How SARS-CoV-2 interacts with the surface proteins of the target cell by Marta Palma Rodríguez, Best in Science winner

Best in Science winner Marta Palma Rodríguez says, “I started using CellPAINT (web-based) to design the illustration. When I finished with the diagram, I used Adobe Photoshop CC 2019 to create the labels and correct the colors. As the receptor TMPRSS2, present in the target cell and very important in the viral priming, is not present in CellPAINT, I decided to look for a serin protease like protein in the PDB and to add it with this program.”

Each winner received an original painting by structural biologist and science illustrator David S. Goodsell.

Although the judges could only award two contest winners, many entries were selected for display on the contest winners announcement. Below are just a few of the entries:

Selected entries in the science category depicting the coronavirus
Selected entries in the science category
Selected entries in the science category depicting the coronavirus
Selected entries in the science category
Selected entries in the science category depicting the coronavirus
Selected entries in the science category
Selected entries in the science category depicting the coronavirus
Selected entries in the science category
Selected entries in the art category. Some images include variations of Edvard Munch's The Scream and Banksy's Girl with Balloon
Selected entries in the art category
Selected entries in the art category. One image is a variation of Van Gogh's Starry Night
Selected entries in the art catgeory
Selected entries in the art category
Selected entries in the art category
Selected entries in the art category
Selected entries in the art category

For more information about the contest, visit the contest winners announcement.

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About the Author
McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie is a fledgling science communicator working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has a background in neuroscience, and was a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After years of thinking she’d become a neuroscience researcher, she discovered her passion for sharing science with others. That finding, in combination with her lifelong dabbling in the arts, led her to write for the Art the Science blog. In her free time, she can be found volunteering with the Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes, trying new foods, and wandering around her home of Washington, D.C. Twitter: @meprillaman