The Bioscience mural, “Life”, was created by Alison Stephen in collaboration with Jon Monroe, professor of Biology. Alison received her B.S. in Biology from JMU in 1999 and is now an artist working in New York City.


The mural is composed of Alison’s sketches of 16 species of organisms around a surface Bioscience muralview of about 60 base pairs of DNA. On the first floor are organisms from the earth’s surface or under water, on the second floor are organisms found in a forest canopy, and on the 3rd floor are organisms that fly. The DNA sequence is from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, and is a portion of the AGLU-1 gene that encodes an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. This gene was cloned and sequenced in the Monroe lab at JMU by a group of undergraduates, including the artist. The sequence illustrated was converted to a 3D model using 3D-DART and visualized using the program Chimera. Alison then used a surface view of the model as a starting point to draw an artistic image of the DNA depicting nitrogen atoms blue, oxygen red, phosphorous yellow and carbon gray. Her drawing was then digitized using Illustrator, printed and installed. The double helix with its characteristic major and minor grooves can be seen from a distance.

The region of the gene depicted (60 out of over 4200 base pairs) encodes a portion of the protein that is highly conserved in alpha-glucosidases across all life forms including humans. Mutations in the human gene lead to Pompe’s disease, which was the subject of the 2010 movie “Extraordinary Measures” staring Harrison Ford. The Monroe lab identified the Arabidopsis gene because of its similarity to the human gene in this region.
Photo credit: Mike Miriello

Read the JMU news story on the mural

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