Molecular Models in collaboration with Lee 3D, have been working with life-science researchers and scientists across the UK and beyond to bring molecular structures to life using colour 3D printing. We printed the SARS-Cov-2 spike trimer for Prof. Jason McLellan (University of Texas at Austin).
Copies of the model have been gifted to the vaccine development teams at Oxford University and Imperial College London. These models are hugely beneficial as communication aids in public outreach.
The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is a key target for a vaccine against Covid-19. It is termed a ‘spike’ protein since dozens of copies of this molecule sit on the outside of each tiny corona virus; these give each virus a distinct spiky appearance – like a crown (or corona).
The spike protein is made of three protein chains (shown in red, green and blue on the model) that wind together to form a trimer. When a Covid-19 virus infects a human, the tip of each spike can interact with a human protein that is naturally present in the cell membrane of our respiratory epithelia – angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE2).
The ACE2 molecule is shown in yellow and the magnets show how it can specifically attach to the spike trimer. When the spike binds to ACE2, this can lead to the virus binding and then infecting the human cell. The trimer is also covered in small sugar molecules called glycans and the biological function of these and their role in infection is still being studied.
The structure we have printed comes from cryo-EM data published by the group of Prof. Jason McLellan, University of Texas at Austin, in the journal Science in February 2020:
Wrapp et al, (2020), Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation, Science, 367, 1260–1263