Displaying the molecular anatomy of subcellular structures

I thought animations of subcellular anatomy, for example, ‘The Inner Life of the Cell’, were largely didactic tools, and that more serious animations for scientific purposes were restricted to the molecular level (e.g., protein animations).

But that was before I saw this awesome animated model of the molecular architecture of the nuclear pore in a paper in Nature (29 Nov).

The nuclear pore is a regulating port for transporting molecules in and out of the cell nucleus. Like all subcellular structures it has been the objects of thousands of studies which have generated enormous amount of biochemical and morphological data. What the authors of this article did was to piece all these kinds of data (others’ and their own) together using computational methods. There are millions of ways in which the 456 identified proteins of the nuclear pore might fit together, but there is only one optimal solution. In the same way as a puzzle is solved by checking if the pieces fit together one by one with respect to colour, form, over all picture etc., the authors used state-of-the art computational integration methods to puzzle the proteins of the nuclear pore together. The animated model is the result.

(from Frank Alber, Svetlana Dokudovskaya, Liesbeth M. Veenhoff, Wenzhu Zhang, Julia Kipper, Damien Devos, Adisetyantari Suprapto, Orit Karni-Schmidt, Rosemary Williams, Brian T. Chait, Andrej Sali & Michael P. Rout, The molecular architecture of the nuclear pore complex,
Nature 450, 695-701, 2007).

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