Apr 17, 2016 | By Alec

While the medical applications of 3D imaging and 3D printing technology largely revolve around solutions for acute medical problems, such as broken bones and missing limbs, these technologies are also very useful as educational tools. In various laboratories around the world, 3D printers are already being used to increase our understanding of complex diseases. 3D images and 3D prints of the molecules that make up viruses or parasites, for instance, can provide scientists with a lot of new knowledge about organisms that they previously only knew in 2D. Eleanor Lutz, a biology PhD student, has now put a more playful spin on that useful 3D printing application, by designing four ‘trading cards’ of 3D viruses, that are also 3D printable as educational models.

By day, Eleanor Lutz studies biology as a PhD student in the research lab of Jeff Riffell at the University of Washington, where she studies mosquito brains. But she also enjoys designing various informative infographics and charts in 3D using Photoshop and illustrator, which are shared through her blog Tabletop Whale.

These trading cards can be seen in a similar light. The four cards are beautiful and informative. Each card describes a virus and its symptoms, sources, habitat and possible prevention methods. They are, of course, also accompanied by a gorgeous 3D structure. The four viruses Lutz chose are: the Adenovirus type 5, HPV type 16, the Dengue virus (which is related to the Zika virus currently causing havoc in the Americas) and the water-borne Chlorella virus.

Data for all of the viruses and their shapes was found in the Protein Data Bank, a database used by scientists to share newly discovered protein structures with their colleagues. With unique ID numbers assigned to each and every protein, it very is easy for scientists to track and study these structures. And viruses, Lutz argues, are some of the most beautiful protein structures around. “Viruses are surprisingly symmetrical, and I love them because they remind me of a biological version of snowflakes. Each trading card shows you the structure of the viral capsid - the protein shell protecting the genetic material inside a virus,” she says of the cool cards.

But most impressive are the 3D animations, which she designed using UCSF Chimera. This is a free molecular modeling program developed by the Resource for Biocomputing, Visualization, and Informatics at the University of California, San Francisco. A highly extensible program for interactive visualization of molecular structures, it is widely used by molecular scientists and can be accessed for free. Perfect for being reminded just how complex the natural world actually is.

Most importantly, the Chimera database also provides free STL files for a number of their molecular models, making it very easy to download and 3D print a very wide variety of viruses, DNA structures and a lot more. While Lutz didn’t 3D print those virus structures herself yet, she says that this might be her next project. You can find those STL files of molecular virus structures here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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