Credit: Ron Zuckerman, Berkeley Lab
3D Printing Molecules Can Reveal New Insights
With everythingِ from violins toِ rifles beingِ made onِ 3D printers, itِ seems theِ devices haveِ taken theِ notion ofِ DIY toِ a wholeِ otherِ level.
Now, 3D printing isِ allowing scientists toِ gain insights intoِ some ofِ the tiniest constituents ofِ the universe: biological molecules.
Although researchers haveِ used computer models toِ visualize theِ origami-like process ofِ protein folding forِ years, theِ experience itselfِ isِ very differentِ betweenِ looking atِ something onِ a flat screen, andِ actuallyِ holding anِ object andِ manipulating anِ object inِ your hands, saidِ Arthur Olson, a molecular biologist atِ the Molecular Graphics Laboratory atِ the Scripps Research Institute inِ La Jolla, California.
3D printing hasِ becomeِ incredibly usefulِ inِ several areas ofِ medical science: 3D-printed hearts, livers andِ skulls areِ alreadyِ in useِ toِ helpِ doctors plan surgeries, andِ may evenِ save lives.
The technology hasِ alsoِ been usedِ toِ print synthetic ears, blood vessels andِ sheets ofِ cardiac muscle thatِ reallyِ beat.
But the printing technique is also helping scientists in the basic sciences.
Olson isِ using theِ 3D-printed models toِ understand howِ HIV, theِ virus thatِ causesِ AIDS, functions.
He isِ sharing hisِ models withِ otherِ researchers throughِ theِ National Institutes ofِ Health’s 3D Print Exchange, a program thatِ allows scientists toِ share instructions forِ printing molecules, organs andِ other objects.
That canِ make itِ difficult toِ seeِ howِ proteins fold up, orِ howِ the myriad forces betweenِ individual molecules interact, Olson said.
3D printing couldِ alsoِ be usedِ toِ design completely artificial molecules.
Proteins areِ very good atِ detecting molecules, suchِ asِ small concentrations ofِ a poison orِ explosives inِ a subway, butِ proteins don’tِ doِ well inِ hot, cold, dry orِ other extreme conditions, saidِ Ron Zuckerman, a nanobioscientist atِ the Molecular Foundry atِ Berkeley Lab inِ California.
The attractive andِ repulsive forces betweenِ molecules canِ beِ modeled withِ tiny magnets onِ the models, andِ materials withِ differentِ flexibility canِ mimic theِ bendiness ofِ differentِ protein structures.