Kacper Dobras and Briony Thomas
Kacper Dobras is an undergraduate student of Product Design and a researcher in the STE(A)M Lab at the University of Leeds. Briony Thomas is deputy director of the Institute of Design, Robotics and Optimisation (iDRO) and head of the STE(A)M Lab. Her research explores the integration of concepts, practises and processes between the arts and sciences. In collaboration with Keith Grehan, from the Astbury Centre of Structural Biology, this project aimed to develop a dynamic physical, educational model to demonstrate virus structure and the mechanisms for preventing infection. The work was possible thanks to the generous support of the Faculty of Engineering internship scheme and the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds.
All viruses consist of genomic material encapsulated inside a protective protein capsid shell. The poliovirus capsid is a dynamic structure composed of 60 copies of four repeating proteins (VP1—VP4), arranged with icosahedral symmetry. VP1 forms a prominent star-shaped plateau at the 5-fold axis of symmetry. VP2 and VP3 form a lozenge at the 3-fold axis of symmetry.
The model demonstrates the dynamic structural changes the capsid undergoes shown within a learner's hands. VP2 and VP3 units move in a seesaw-like motion when pressed. The plateau opens at the center of 5-fold symmetry with the internal VP4 protein becoming exposed. An LED light is activated at the opening to visualize transmission of genomic material and infection.