Ebola’s molecular landscape wins award

US artist and microbiologist David Goodsell has taken out this year’s Wellcome Image Awards with an intricate watercolour and ink painting of the Ebola virus.

The image shows in minute detail the internal structure of this tiny, notoriously lethal virus. The central core is drawn in three dimensions so that you can see its structure more clearly, a view only possible through illustration.

“This is a stunning illustration of a deadly pathogen – a cross-section through an Ebola virus particle,” said Fergus Walsh, BBC medical correspondent and member of the judging panel.

“The judges felt that this watercolour and ink image elegantly displayed the biological structure of a virus which has caused such devastation in West Africa.”

To create the scientifically accurate painting, David started by extensively researching the size of different molecules and how they interact with each other.

Then he sketched and painted them methodically, with each structure finally outlined in pen.

Large molecules inside the virus are depicted here but not water and small molecules.

The Ebola virus is surrounded by a membrane (pink/purple) stolen from an infected cell. This is studded with proteins from the virus (turquoise) which extend outwards and look like trees rooted in the membrane. These proteins attach to the cells that the virus infects.

Another layer of proteins (blue) supports the membrane on the inside. Genetic information (RNA; yellow) is stored in a cylinder (nucleocapsid; green) in the centre of the virus.

This virus is approximately 100 nanometres (0.0001 millimetres) wide – some 200 times smaller than many of the cells it infects.

Cosmos featured the detailed work of David Goodsell in 2014.

The painting of the Ebola virus was one of 20 winning images selected to showcase the best in science image-making from all those acquired by the Wellcome Images picture library over the past year.

This year’s awards also saw the launch of the Julie Dorrington Award for outstanding photography in a clinical environment. This was awarded to David Bishop from the UK for his photograph of a premature baby receiving light therapy.

The baby is bathed in the blue glow of ultra violet light which is being used to treat jaundice, a common condition in newborn babies.

“The whole image is cast in a beautiful blue light – the judges felt it perfectly captured the vulnerability of a newborn, whilst keeping a respectful and discreet distance from the subject,” Walsh said.

The awards were presented today at a ceremony at the Science Museum in London, where the images are now on show to the public.

This year the images will also be appearing as far afield as the Africa Centre for Population Health in South Africa, the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow, Russia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in US.

To find out where you can see the images, check the Wellcome Images website.

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