Image: Screenshot

Golf balls, some buildings, and even a few works of religious art imitate viruses. Not in a bad way, but in their beauty.

If you don’t believe me, just take a half hour or so to explore University of Edinburgh Computational Biology Ph.D. student Hamish Todd’s new interactive documentary. You’ll realize that human design and viruses have a lot more in common than you’d think.

Advertisement

“I’m interested in the shapes of the molecules,” Todd told Gizmodo, “And viruses are a particularly beautiful example.”

Todd’s new documentary took him three years to put together and lets the viewer explore the structure and function of several different viruses, including those that cause HIV, Zika and measles. Viruses can fold in different ways, but a majority of them, including those that cause herpes and the common cold, follow the Caspar Klug theory. Simple, identical molecular units combine to form the capsule that holds the viral DNA. This allows for viruses to easily form and multiply.

There are more complex viruses that follow other organizational principles. Todd said his proudest moment in his documentary was recreating the complex folding structure of the human immunodeficiency virus.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“There was a problem I was having where you change this shape and it wraps up into a 3D shape. If you see it you’ll know what I mean,” he said. “The mathematics was extremely difficult, and I eventually found out some origamists had already solved this problem.”

Todd hopes to one day create virtual reality documentaries like these that can go on display at museums. Anyway, that’s enough talking from me, you should just watch the documentary for a little dose of scientific beauty.

[Virus, the Beauty of the Beast]