We’ve seen a lot of news coverage recently of the ZIka virus. The World Health Organization has declared Zika a Global Emergency and scientists from around the world are collaborating, sharing information to help combat the disease. Zika is a mosquito-borne flavivirus which is becoming a pandemic in many parts of the world. It has possible links to birth defects in the fetuses of pregnant women with Zika fever and neurological conditions in infected adults. I became interested in creating a picture of the virus, but discovered that the structure is unresolved. A little digging on the internet turned up several pictures of the virus that were actually pictures of a similar virus, the Dengue virus. Although it is a common practice for scientific artists to substitute similar structures, I wanted to see if I could do better.

I found a homology model of the Zika envelope protein created by Dr Sean Ekins as part an opinion article uploaded to and contacted him about it. A homology model applies the amino acid structure of an unknown protein (in this case Zika) to the known structure of a similar protein or proteins (in this case Dengue and Japanese Encephalitis) in an attempt to predict the structure of the new protein. As a result of Dr Ekin’s efforts, I have created this image of the Zika virus envelope, using his homology models arranged with the structural organization of the Dengue virus. I hope that through their combined efforts, scientists are able to provide more detailed structures of the Zika virus, not for the sake of picture-makers like me, but to understand and ultimately overcome this disease.

For comparison’s sake, here is the same image rendered with the Dengue envelope protein. They are very similar, but several differences can be observed.
#zika #zikavirus #openzika

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