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VR Helps Microbiology R&D

VR Helps Microbiology R&D

IMTECH, an India-based microbiology research and technology centre, has recently installed a Virtalis ActiveWall Virtual Reality (VR) system as well as Virtalis’ own VR software enabler for PyMOL, which allows molecular data to be visualised and interacted with in stereoscopic 3D.

Srikrishna Subramanian, principal scientist at IMTECH, explained: “When the ActiveWall and the VR Enabler for PyMOL were installed, their application as a high-end visualisation platform for macromolecular biodata was clear. Once the integrated system was up and running, people were awe-struck by the stunning visual impact of being able to look at their structural data on a large screen where they could interact with it in real-time. The utility of this system is such that researchers can use it to interactively visualise biological macromolecules at an atomic level, allowing detailed structural analysis. In addition to serving as an exceptional research environment, our ActiveWall can be used as a teaching tool to highlight the importance of macromolecules to students and research collaborators from other related research areas.”

IMTECH Ph.D. students visualizing DNA/protein interaction site of the tetR protein. In the absence of tetracycline, the protein is strongly bound to the dsDNA and acts as a repressor. The Virtalis ActiveWall is an immersive, interactive 3D visualisation system and probably the bestselling VR system in the world. ActiveWall draws on active stereo technology and features a custom screen, specialist computer, Virtalis custom software and powerful projectors. Movements within the ActiveWall environment are tracked using a tracking system. This added functionality alters the perspective of the visuals according to the user’s position and orientation within the scene to give a natural and accurate sense of relationship and scale. The hand-held controller allows the immersive experience to be enhanced further. The user can navigate through the virtual world, pick and manipulate molecules in real-time and make decisions on the fly.

IMTECH’s scientists carry out integrated research in classical, as well as emerging, areas of microbiology, immunology, bioinformatics, protein science and engineering, and drug design. IMTECH’s research in bioinformatics and structural biology focuses on a variety of in silico and biophysical techniques such as Molecular modelling, X-ray crystallography, SAX and Electron microscopy.

Subramanian added: “Our lab specialises in developing new computational approaches to study protein structures by carrying out evolutionary analysis and the classification of protein families/folds. We have been using PyMOL for our research for quite some time now. Complete VR-integration of the open source PyMOL software was a very important factor in choosing Virtalis, as PyMOL is the only visualisation tool most of our students use, owing to its intuitive GUI and strong command-line scripting abilities. The first impression users have of the ActiveWall with its VR-enabled PyMOL is always a big WOW! We now have an easy to use, interactive platform on which we can visualise molecules of interest in 3D.”

A zoomed-in view of the tetracycline binding region of the repressor protein tetR. Negative and positively-charged residues are coloured red and blue respectively. The tetracycline molecule is coloured yellow as displayed as ball-and-sticks. The protein molecule is represented as a surface.IMTECH is currently using its ActiveWall with VR-enabled PyMOL to visualise biological macromolecules (especially proteins) in 3D in order to study the interaction of these molecules with one another and with other biological moieties. The system is also deployed in a teaching course on protein structures, as it helps students to visualise macromolecular interactions, such as, protein-DNA interaction, in specific contexts like multiple-drug resistance.
Subramanian concluded: “ActiveWall makes group discussions more interactive, because the minute details of a particular protein or macromolecule are much clearer in 3D on a large screen. We now have a better appreciation of how a protein’s function is modulated by atomic level interactions and the audience can see these macromolecules in rich interactive detail. The hand tracking system gives power to modulate a structure as and when needed during the course of a discussion and to visualise from multiple viewpoints. Overall, the Virtalis ActiveWall fosters an atmosphere of active discussion and participation for all.”


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