Coronavirus is Frequently Oval Shaped, Not Perfectly Round

NIH 3DPX enables 3D viewing of the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus
coronavirus depiction

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has truly transformed the USA in many unforeseen ways.

Among these changes ‘are many with National Institutes of Health (NIH) affiliations, who are lending their expertise to deploy new and emerging technologies to address myriad research challenges,’ said Dr. Francis Collins, the 16th Director of the NIH, in his weekly blog, posted on May 26, 2020.

‘That’s certainly the case for the dedicated team from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the NIH 3D Print Exchange (3DPX).’

A remarkable example of the team’s work is this 3D-printed physical model of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

This model shows the viral surface (blue) and the spike proteins studded proportionally to the right size and shape. 

These proteins are essential for SARS-CoV-2 to attach to human cells and infect them. 

Here, the spike proteins are represented in their open, active form (orange) that’s capable of attaching to a human cell, as well as in their closed, inactive form (red).

The model is about 5 inches in diameter. 

But, it takes more than 5 hours to print using an “ink” of thin layers of a gypsum plaster-based powder fused with a colored binder solution. 

When completed, the plaster model is coated in epoxy for strength and a glossy, ceramic-like finish. 

For these models, NIAID uses commercial-grade, full-color 3D printers. 

However, the same 3D files can be used in any type of 3D printer, including “desktop” models available on the consumer market.

Darrell Hurt and Meghan McCarthy lead the 3DPX team. Kristen Browne, Phil Cruz, and Victor Starr Kramer, the team members who helped to produce this remarkable model, created it as part of a collaboration with the imaging team at NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML).

The RML’s Electron Microscopy Unit captured the microscopic 3D images of the virus, which was cultured from one of the first COVID-19 patients in the country. 

The unit handed off these and other data to its in-house visual specialist to convert into a preliminary 3D model. The model was then forwarded to the 3DPX team in Maryland to colorize and optimize in preparation for 3D printing.

This model is especially unique because it’s based exclusively on SARS-CoV-2 data. 

For example, the model is assembled from data showing that the virus is frequently oval, not perfectly round. 

The spike proteins also aren’t evenly spaced but pop up more randomly from the surface. 

Another nice feature of 3D printing is the models can be constantly updated to incorporate the latest structural discoveries.

That’s why 3D models are such excellent teaching tools to share among scientists and the public. 

Folks can hold the plaster virus and closely examine its structure. 

In fact, the team recently printed out a model and delivered it to me for exactly this educational purpose.

In addition to this complete model, the researchers also are populating the online 3D print exchange with atomic-level structures of the various SARS-CoV-2 proteins that have been deposited by researchers around the world into protein and electron microscopy databanks. 

The number of these structures and plans currently stands at well over 100—and counting.

As impressive as this modeling work is, 3DPX has found yet another essential way to aid in the COVID-19 fight. 

And, if you happen to have a 3D printer handy, you could even try making them for yourself, concluded Dr. Collins’s blog.

SARS-CoV-2 outbreak news published by CoronavirusToday