Scripps researcher describes new 3D model of a cell

Researchers developed a 3D cell model
(Image by Martina Maritan)

Scripps researchers have developed the first 3D model of an entire cell in molecular detail, which has been described in a recent “Journal of Molecular Biology” article.

One of the paper’s authors, Del Mar resident and Scripps researcher Arthur Olson, said the paper details “a new landmark in our goals to computationally model and visualize living systems in molecular detail.”

Olson started the Molecular Graphics Laboratory at Scripps 40 years ago.

“I had become enamored with the visualization aspects of how we understand these complex structures,” said Olson, who received his Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1975 and arrived at Scripps six years later. “I bought in early.”

“When you’re in a science like ours,” he continued, “what you try to do is start with the simplest things that are feasible, as proof of principle, and then the technology can develop to get larger.”

According to a Scripps news release, developing structural models of entire cells “has been a long-standing cross-discipline challenge for the research community, as it requires an unprecedented level of integration between multiple sources of biological data and enhanced methods for computational modeling and visualization.”

And the technology to make it happen has become increasingly sophisticated.

“Now we have things that are 1,000-times more powerful in every way, including the graphics in our pockets,” Olson said. “We’re looking to model larger organisms at some point. We’ve done some modeling on the pancreatic beta cell in another collaboration. And there, what we’ve modeled so far are the insulin secretory granules that carry the insulin from the beta cell into the system. In other words, the delivery mechanism for insulin in the pancreas.

“Our goal is to make these models usable with certain confidence levels in simulations of how the cell operates over time. We’re not at that stage yet.”