Video: Watch our updated demo reel of medical and scientific animation.

Beneath our everyday world there is a miniature universe of cells, trillions of tiny worlds, unseen and beautiful. Here is the latest Art of the Cell demo reel, including clips from many of the projects I have worked on, such as “Biology:How Life Works”, and “The Inner Life of the Cell”. In this video compilation, you will glimpse transport molecules strutting through the cellular landscape, watch antibodies mark cancer cells for destruction, view viral rna enclosed in geometric capsids, and witness apoptosomes gathering in a cell’s final hour. Look on as spinning atp synthases generate power deep in the folds …

Art of the Cell on your Desktop

3D Molecular Wallpapers According to a recent study of the teenagers who live in my house, most people’s home screen savers are “disappointing”. In an effort to combat this serious world issue, we have formatted some of our popular molecular images to fit the laptops, phones, tablets and whatever other glowing fields of pixels you stare at all day. So, put apoptosomes on your iphone, or tRNA on your tablet, or parvovirii on every computer in the lab. Download from the Wallpapers Page, or click on a link below. We’ve tried to cover pixel dimensions for the most common devices …

One More Cup of Coffee

These yellow structures are adenosine A2A receptors in the shell of the nucleus accumbens of the brain. As we become tired, our bodies produce adenosine (the green small molecule above), which binds to these receptors and they, in turn, send signals to inhibit arousal. In other words, we get sleepy. Enter caffeine! (the orange small molecule above). Caffeine binds to the A2A receptors in place of adenosine and blocks the process, so we wake up. There have been a lot of good caffeine related stories on the internet this week. Check out Carl Zimmer’s article in the New York Times …

See the Light

  Bacteriorhodopsin is a protein found in archaeal cells. It uses the energy from light to pump protons across the cell membrane. The resulting proton gradient is used to drive the ATP making machinery that powers the cell. Our eyes have a similar light sensitive protein called rhodopsin in their retinas. Rhodopsins have seven trans-mebrane helixes and contain a molecule of retinal which triggers the protein when it absorbs a photon of light. Although bacteriorhodopsin has a different natural function than the rhodopsin found in our eyes, research is being done to see if the proton gradient it creates from …

Release Your Inhibitions

This (the green protein) is acetylcholinesterase. It is found in the space between neural synapses. The small blue guys are acetylcholine neurotransmitters, and are released from the pre-synaptic membrane of one neuron, and received by acetycholine receptors on the post-synaptic membrane of the next neuron, passing on the signal. acetylcholinesterase breaks down the acetylcholine in the synapse, and terminates the neurotransmission. The Red molecule is Donepezil, which is sometimes used to improve cognition in Alzheimer’s patients by inhibiting the acetylcholinesterase. Donepezil is a reversible inhibitor which means that it is broken down in a few hours, and is useful for …

That’s No Moon…

This star-shaped protein complex is called an apoptosome, and it is constructed in your cells to bring about cell death. It’s actually part of the cell’s self-destruct system. When a cell becomes stressed or old and ceases to function properly, a series of signals bring about apoptosis, or programmed cell death. This is a good thing, and part of the natural life cycle of a cell. Unfortunately, this process can be blocked in cancer cells, preventing your immune system from killing them off.

Tutorial: Make molecules in PyMOL for Lightwave3D

Medical and scientific animations frequently require the display of molecular models from PDB (Protein Data Bank) files. Until we get access to ePMV the options for Lightwave users are Sean Moyer’s PDB reader (which, unfortunately, inverts models on their Z axis), or an external molecular viewing software. My viewer of choice is PyMOL. PyMOL is a molecular visualization viewer, built on open-source software. There is a subscription version, which includes support and some extra features, but for just exporting models for use in Lightwave, the pre-compiled open source version (described here) will work just fine. There are thousands (millions?) of …

Dodecahedral RNA

Pariacoto Virus (PaV) is a nodavirus with a dodecahedral cage of RNA inside an icosahedral capsid. PaV infects insects. This one came from a Peruvian armyworm. Really. A viral structure like this just compels me to model and render it. That’s not weird is it? If you want to explore the structure yourself, the PDB is number is 1F8V.

Time to VEG(F)

We’re making great strides here at Art of the Cell, but most of the growth is behind the scenes for now. Speaking of growth, this is VEGF which stands for Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor. VEGF is a signalling protein that stimulates the growth of new blood vessels when we grow or heal. Unfortunately, over expression of VEGF can contribute to disease. For instance cancer cells can express VEGF to grow new blood supply lines to tumors. Anti-VEGF therapies are an important treatment for many cancers.

Unwinding DNA

Since I started exploring CRISPRs and Cas9, I’ve been spending a bit of time working out the mechanics of animating strands of DNA for my Cas9 complexes to edit. DNA is a common character in medical animations, and we are frequently called on to manipulate it in various ways. Winding, unwinding, partially unzipping, cutting, splicing, etc, and these activities can be a challenge to rig in animation software. There is a lot more information about rigging 3D characters out there than there is about rigging a strand of DNA (Google it and see), so there is always room for experimentation. …