The Plant Cell’s Cover Image Continues Global Conversation Over AI-Generated Art

The cover of the Plant Cell on a tablet. Cover depicts AI-generated watercolor of crops in drought and hot sun created by Nan Eckardt and DALL-E 2.The January 2023 Focus Issue of The Plant Cell, one of ASPB’s high-impact journals, spotlights research focusing on the biology of plant response to abiotic stresses and explores the effects of climate change such as increased drought conditions and extreme heat.

It also features an innovative AI-generated cover image created by Nan Eckardt, Senior Features Editor at The Plant Cell, and AI-model DALL-E 2. The watercolor-esque picture portrays rows of crunchy, dry brown crops under a yellow sun.

The Plant Cell has a modest budget for artwork typically devoted to figure design to help authors present their data clearly and accurately. Because The Plant Cell’s covers typically come from images within the journal, they often feature captivating images and artwork from scientists or artists. However, Focus Issues’ broader themes often include multiple reviews on a topic, making finding an image befitting the cover a bit more difficult.

As AI becomes a hot topic in scientific publishing, both for what it can produce by way of written content as well as its ability to synthesize and analyze complex datasets, among other things, more scientists are experimenting with the technology.

“For the January Focus Issue, we needed an image that conveyed a broader idea about the topic than you might find in a typical research article,” said Blake Meyers, Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell, on what influenced the decision to explore AI-generated images as an option. “I had been reading about DALL-E and playing around with it, and I was impressed with the art it produced. So, we decided to try and see what kind of images it might make for a cover by plugging in different keywords. Nan came up with several nice images, so among the editors, we picked the winner.”

For the next Focus Issue on RNA biology, The Plant Cell editors worked with an artist to create the cover.

This relates to a topic surfacing at the forefront of the technology and art worlds: is AI-generated art really art?

Those from a technical background will often answer wholeheartedly “yes!” while those with more traditional art expertise may express concern over what this development could do to their craft and industry as a whole.

Certainly, this debate will only intensify over the next several years. As DALL-E and other text-to-image-based generators evolve, higher-quality imagery will become more readily available and accessible. And, as a result, the lines between art and science will continue to blur.

“Long story short: our focus is on the science,” explained Eckardt. “The vast majority of our cover images are contributed by our authors and their research. Focus Issues are an exception. DALL-E was newly released, and we decided to give it a try. We’ll be showcasing the work of a human artist on our next focus issue cover!”

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What are your thoughts on this intersection of science, technology, and AI-generated art? Leave a comment below!

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1 thought on “The Plant Cell’s Cover Image Continues Global Conversation Over AI-Generated Art”

  1. This article beautifully captures the evolving intersection of art and technology. The Plant Cell’s innovative AI-generated cover image is a testament to the growing role of artificial intelligence in creative expression and scientific communication.


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