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Catawba's Biochemistry Students Interact with Models of Proteins Thanks to 3D Printer

April 5, 2019

Category: Academics, Biology, Chemistry, Students

co-3dproteins.pngStudents in Catawba College's Biochemistry course with Professor of Biology Dr. Steve Coggin are studying the three dimensional architecture of proteins.

In addition to images in books and on the internet, these students are able to interact with models of proteins they produced with a 3D printer. First, they selected a protein from the RCSB Protein Data Bank. This online database has information on over 40,000 different proteins including their molecular structure.

The Biochemistry students then downloaded the protein information into a program that converted the data into a form that the 3D printer uses to make a model. Dr. Carmony Hartwig, Associate Professor of Biology, and Amanda Bosch, Digital Pedagogy and Scholarship Librarian, developed the laboratory exercise the Biochemistry students used to print their protein models.

A model of human lysozyme and
its Protein Data Bank image.

The Corriher-Linn-Black Library is the home of the 3D printer. Catawba's Director of the Corriher-Linn-Black Library, Mr. Earl Givens, Jr., received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Science to purchase the printer, develop the I.C.E. (Innovate. Collaborate. Engage.) Box located on its main floor, and for other library projects.

The Biochemistry students loaded their protein files onto a computer that controls the printer. The printer has an extruder head that melts a long filament of plastic. The extruder moves over a plate in three dimensions and the molten plastic is laid down one thin layer at a time to make the protein model.

Students can interact with the protein in a way that is not possible by any other means. Specifically, they can tease apart various structural aspects of the protein's composition that supplements content learned in the classroom regarding amino acid properties and how they contribute to overall protein chemistry and function.

Ethan Aguliera said "Now that I see it, I better understand the structure and function of proteins."

Allie Hedrick said of this lab "While working with a 3-D model on a computer screen is certainly helpful, it is a completely different level of understanding when I can hold the protein in my hands. "

Students in the Biochemistry class are: Ethan Aguilera, Rachel Coble, Nikki Elminowski, Mitchell Harris, Allie Hedrick, William Jones and Michaela Patterson.

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