Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: Portrait of Zika Virus

Credit: David Goodsell, The Scripps Research Institute

This lively interplay of shape and color is an artistic rendering of the Zika virus preparing to enter a cell (blue) by binding to its protein receptors (green). The spherical structures (pink) represent two Zika viruses in a blood vessel filled with blood plasma cells (tan). The virus in the middle in cross section shows viral envelope proteins (red) studding the outer surface, with membrane proteins (pink) embedded in a fatty layer of lipids (light purples). In the innermost circle, you can see the viral genome (yellow) coiled around capsid proteins (orange).

This image was sketched and hand-painted with watercolors by David Goodsell, a researcher and illustrator at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA. Goodsell put paint and science to paper as part of the “Molecule of the Month” series run by RCSB Protein Data Bank (PDB), which NIH co-supports with the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The PDB, which contains structural data on thousands of proteins and small molecules, uses its “Molecule of the Month” series to help students visualize a molecule or virus and to encourage their exploration of structural biology and its applications to medicine.

While the selection of Zika as May’s Molecule of the Month is surely related to its prominent place in world news, Goodsell drew heavily from the recently published near-atomic 3D map of the virus by a team of NIH grantees, led by Richard Kuhn’s group at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN [1]. Solving the Zika structure marks an important step forward in efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine against this emerging health threat.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.