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January 29, 2013 / May K.

Neurophysin I, carrier protein for Oxytocin

Protein Data Bank ID: 2HNU
Protein Name: Neurophysin I (Carrier for Oxytocin)
Organism: Bos taurus
Title of Drawing: Mother Bear with Baby

Neurophysin I together with oxytocin are both cleavage products of the precursor protein preprooxyphysin. Once preprooxyphysin has been cleaved, neurophysin acts as carrier protein for oxytocin. Oxytocin is a well-known hormone. It has many functions, especially in the field of human relationships. For example, it plays an important role in bonding between mother and child. Sometimes a view of a baby face is enough to induce a release of oxytocin.
So mother bear and its baby is a direct illustration of the function of oxytocin and hence its carrier protein neurophysin I.
you can see a TED talk about the role of oxytocin. And here is an easy accessible video for the Russian-speaking readers.

November 1, 2012 / May K.


UPD: Thank you very much for your help! The winners will be announced in February. Looking forward with excitement!)

My entry has been chosen as one of the top 10 in its category in the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge! Now I need your help: If you vote for me, my entry may be designated the People’s Choice!
The 2013 winning entries will be published in a February 2014 issue of the journal Science!!

There seem to be troubles with the login, therefore the voting procedure might be a little complicated:

1. Follow this link and click  “Vote for this entry” (it might be difficult to find as it is written in gray letters), click “Register” and fill out the form

2. Follow the link you will get in the verification e-mail

3. Find my entry “Nature playing chess” and click again “Vote for this entry”

4. Fill out the login form and one more time click  “Vote for this entry”

Thank you so much for your help and sorry for the inconvenience!


October 31, 2012 / May K.

Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 (GSK-3)

Protein Data Bank ID: 1Q3W
Protein Name: GSK-3
Organism: Homo sapiens
Title of Drawing: “Kitti’s hog-nosed bat“

This protein was drawn for a friend working on the same floor as I do.

The enzyme Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 (GSK-3) mediates the transfer of phosphate groups to specific amino acid residues (serine or threonine) of its target protein. Usually phosphorylation by GSK-3 leads to the inhibition of the target. This kinase is involved in many processes of living organisms, one of which is the storage of glucose. This protein is of high interest to researchers as it seems to be implicated in many different diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Type II diabetes, some forms of cancer, and Bipolar Disorder.
So in the run-up to Halloween we should follow the example of the glucose storing GSK-3 and stock up on candies!

October 18, 2012 / May K.


Protein Data Bank ID: 1MEL
Protein Name: Nanobody
Organism: Camelus dromedarius
Title of Drawing: “Bedouin Riding a Camel“

It is not only the drawing showing a dromedary, but also the inspiring protein originates from a dromedary camel.

This small protein is called nanobody. Sounds cool, but what is a nanobody? It is a fragment of an antibody, in this case an antibody from a camel. Antibodies serve our immune system, they can bind pathogenic substances and protect our body from dangerous invaders. Antibodies are widely used in medicine and biology, e.g for passive immunization or targeting of substances (mostly proteins) of interest. In both fields nanobodies have their advantages. They are stabler and much smaller than conventional antibodies and can pass narrow holes. So literally, for this nanobody camel it is easy to go through the eye of a needle.

In the following illustration you can see how small the nanobody (right) is compared to the conventional antibody (left) and to the camel antibody (middle). The antigen binding regions (variable domains) are shown in yellow and green. The nanobody corresponds to the variable domain of the camel antibody.

Image source:

October 1, 2012 / May K.


Protein Data Bank ID: 3HON
Protein Name: Collagen XVIII Trimerization Domain
Organism: Homo sapiens
Title of Drawing: Allusion to Walter Moers’ “Alter Sack” from “The Little Asshole”

This is a trimerization domain from human collagen XVIII. Collagens are well known for their function as structural proteins. We all know that collagen is an important component of skin, bones, and muscles. Not many of us know that there are over 20 different types of collagen, one of them (type XVIII) turned out to have a function rather untypical for collagen. Like other collagen family members collagen XVIII consists of three helical chains. The formation of this triple helical structure is dependent on the here shown trimerization domain. Once the trimerization domains of three collagen chains have found each other and assembled, the chains start aligning and acquiring a helical structure. This happens in a zipper-like manner. Cleavage of collagen XVIII results in a small protein called endostatin. Endostatin prevents the formation of blood vessels and is a possible agent for cancer treatment.

Image modified from:

The old geezer in my drawing was supposed to be an allusion to the “Old Curmudgeon” (scenes with curmudgeon on YouTube; in german) from “The Little Asshole”, cartoon by a german comic creator Walter Moers… The same day that I was finishing this drawing, I occasionally stumbled upon a cartoonist unknown to me by then. His book was offered by the bookstore on our campus. The cartoonist’s name is Jean-Marc Reiser. I liked his obscene cartoons and couldn’t resist the special offer, so I bought the book. When I came home I searched the Web for more cartoons. And that is what I found:

Image source:,1010993.aspx

Now compare Reiser’s “handicapé” to Moes’ ”old curmudgeon”.

Image source:

Indeed, I found out that Moers was a big fan of Reiser. Thus, my tribute to Walter Moers at the same time turned out to be a tribute to Jean-Marc Reiser.

October 1, 2012 / May K.

Lipoate-Protein Ligase A (LplA)

Protein Data Bank ID: 2AAI
Protein Name: Lipoate-Protein Ligase A
Organism: Escherichia coli

Recently two students who used to work in our lab asked me to draw a special protein. Lipoate-protein ligase A (LplA) is an enzyme which catalyzes the attachment of lipoic acid to specific enzymes. This allows lipoic acid to act as a coenzyme primarily in oxidative decarboxylation reactions. Recently, this ability of LplA was used to label proteins with fluorescent tags [*].
And here are the outcomes:

“A Pashtun Man”


Instead of boring you with more information about the protein I decided to write a little bit about Pashtuns. They are an Iranian ethnic group which primarily can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns speak Pashto which belogs to the group of Eastern Iranian languages. One of their distinctive features is a very complicated system of tribes and clans. One example of Pashtun traditional garments is the so-called Pakul [*], a hat which you can see on the head of the drawn man.

One possible memory aid could go as follows: Like the Pakul helps to identify a Pashtun, LplA can help to identify proteins by labeling them.

Just turn the protein image through 180° and you will see a completely different motif which has absolutely no connection to the previous one.

“Sick Rat Dreaming of a Piece of Tart”


Here the fatty tart might remind us of the fact that LplA is involved in the attachment of lipoic acid which in its turn is involved in the lipid metabolism.

September 20, 2012 / May K.

Ricin – Toxic Protein

Protein Data Bank ID: 2AAI
Protein Name: Ricin
Organism: Ricinus communis
Title of Drawing: “The Demon”


Ricin is a highly toxic protein from the castor oil plant. Few seeds of this plant are enough to kill an adult. But how does this protein influence our body? Ricin consists of two chains, A and B. Chain B (shown in the lower part of the drawing covering the feet of the demon and the cat) can bind the surface of our cells and thereby facilitates the penetration of chain A. Chain A (represented as the upper part of the demon’s body) is the actual evildoer. It is an enzyme which can inactivate ribosomes, the indispensable part of the machinery for protein generation. Thus, the organism dies due to lack of essential proteins. There were several attempts to use ricin as a warfare agent.

Image source:
However, Ricinus communis has also useful features. As it can be derived from the its name, the castor oil plant is the source of castor oil. Especially in former times this oil was commonly used as a laxative.

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