Effective science communication engages readers through use of multiple formats, from written text to visual images. In recognition of the long-standing importance of microscopy and increasing use of video for understanding cell biological processes, PLOS sponsored the 2016 American Society for Cell Biology Celldance video contest. With support from ASCB, the “Tell Your Own Cell Story” videos document membrane remodeling during cell migration, invasion and metastasis; dendritic cell migration during the immune response and chromosome movement during cell division. Through these videos attendees at the ASCB meeting were able to see the personal, creative side of scientists not typically presented to a wide audience. PLOS interviewed these scientists by email following the conference.
Daniela Cimini’s lab at Virginia Tech University studies the molecules and structures during mitosis that ensure accurate chromosome segregation during cell division. Related work of the Cimini group addresses the causes and consequences of abnormal chromosome numbers in normal and cancer cells, including kinetochore-microtubule attachment and chromosome segregation irregularities. She has a long-standing interest in use of video to describe the dynamic nature of mitosis and considers video microscopy “particularly important for disseminating ideas to non-scientists or scientists that are not expert in a particular field, which may include funders and policymakers.” In creating the videos, scientists in Cimini’s lab – comfortable giving lectures or presenting work to colleagues – experienced how difficult it was to present their work in front of a camera. During production, scientists, writers and videographer interacted to plan and execute the project, said Cimini. “It was very interesting to see all these different perspectives and areas of expertise come together.” Cimini has been publishing with PLOS since 2009.
Roberto Weigert’s lab at the National Cancer Institute focuses on unraveling basic molecular mechanisms regulating trafficking events in mammalian tissues, with a particular emphasis on membrane remodeling. The lab pioneered a new technique to image these processes live in multicellular organisms and to investigate membrane dynamics during endocytosis, tumor progression, invasion and metastasis. The work in their Celldance video highlights this technique but also the collaborative use of new technologies to enhance research discussions among lab members. For Weigert’s team, while the most difficult part in making the video was “avoiding the use of jargon and other technical terms that are part of our daily life,” the experience provided them an exciting opportunity “to talk about the overall theme of our research rather than focusing on a single project.” Wiegert personally thinks scientists play an important role in direct dissemination of research findings. “I find that when scientific messages are disseminated more widely by an intermediary, there is a loss in translation. Hearing the voice of the scientists that are doing the job is a more compelling and direct way to communicate the messages.”
Matthieu Piel’s lab at the Institut Curie, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) is fascinated by how cells determine front and back – cell polarity – in the context of cell migration and cell division. Members of the Piel lab documented through video that when dendritic cells – key participants of the immune response responsible for presenting antigens to T cells – migrate through narrow passages they can be squeezed so hard that nuclear proteins leak out of and cytosolic proteins leak into the nucleus. This has serious implications for cell survival. For Piel, the most challenging part of creating the video was not what to show or how to show it, “I knew which movies I wanted to show and I wrote in a way that included them all,” he says, but how to tell this dynamic story in five minutes. Piel often watches short science videos and thinks there is a need for more of this forum for communicating science—kids especially should watch more of them, he says. When asked about funders and policy makers, however, he is less certain. “Maybe they would be more interested to know about scientists. The few I know are usually more interested about people.” Piel has been publishing with PLOS since 2008; his early work examined structural proteins involved in membrane ruffling. Currently, in addition to basic research, his own lab uses nano- and micro-fabrication techniques to develop (and patent) tools to study cell polarity through control and modulation of key physical and chemical parameters of the cell microenvironment.
All three labs embraced the challenge of presenting complex science in a visually engaging yet comprehensible way that is also representative of dynamic cellular movements observed in response to environmental stimuli. Watch the videos and see for yourself that all three labs lived up to the challenge; read more from the author interviews on PLOS Biologue to find out what motivated these scientists to submit their work for an ASCB Celldance 2016 Award and leave a comment here to let us know what you think.