Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2019, the virus responsible for the outbreak – SARS-CoV-2 – has continued to evolve. Mutations of the virus’ spike protein, the main protein driving infectivity and transmissibility, are especially concerning as they may allow the virus to improve its infectivity, transmissibility, and ability to evade the immune system. Understanding how specific molecular changes can alter the behaviour of a virus is challenging for non-experts, but this information helps us to understand the pandemic we are living through and the public health measures and interventions needed to bring it under control. In response to communication challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, we recently developed an online educational application to explain the molecular biology of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein mutations to the general public. We used visualisation techniques such as 3D modeling and animation, which have been shown to be highly effective teaching tools in molecular biology, allowing for the viewer to better understand protein structure, function, and dynamics. We also included interactive elements for users to learn actively by engaging with the digital content, and consequently improve information retention. This chapter presents the methodological and technological framework which we used to create this resource, the ‘SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Mutation Explorer’ (SSPME). It explains how molecular visualisation and 3D modeling software were used to develop accurate models of relevant proteins; how 3D animation software was used to accurately visualise the dynamic molecular processes of SARS-CoV-2 infection, transmission, and antibody evasion; and how game development software was used to compile the 3D models and animations into a comprehensive, informative interactive application on SARS-CoV-2 spike protein mutations.

This chapter indicates how cutting-edge visualisation techniques and technologies can be used to improve science communication about complex topics in molecular biology and infection biology to the general public, something that is critical to gaining control of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.


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Cite as

Iannucci, S., Harvey, W., Hughes, J., Hutchinson, E. & Poyade, M. 2022, 'Using Molecular Visualisation Techniques To Explain the Molecular Biology of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Mutations to a General Audience', Biomedical Visualisation, Cham, Switzerland. https://radar.gsa.ac.uk/7878/

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Last updated: 19 August 2023
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