Francis Yoshimoto, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at UTSA College of Science, introduces his students in the Biochemistry II Lab to a new way of learning; using virtual reality headsets to observe and analyze protein structures.
Yoshimoto’s students used the Department of Computer Science’s VizLab to set up these virtual reality (VR) headsets. Students created snapshots of a protein using traditional computer software, such as Chimera or Pymol, then went to the same region of the protein in ProteinVR, a web-based molecular visualization program that allows you to see proteins with a VR headset.
After comparing the two images, the students prepared 3D snapshots of other proteins and their interactions with ligands or protein partners by searching the protein database for other proteins related to human health, such as SARS CoV-2 spike protein, which the coronavirus uses to invade human cells.
3D VR headsets have proven to be an effective way to educate students about protein structures, immersing them in a unique learning experience. Under the ProteinVR viewer with the Oculus headset, students could change their viewing angles of the protein and navigate forwards and backwards using the joystick on the Oculus remote. With the helmet on, students could travel inside the protein. If they wanted to move in a different direction around the protein, they could just tilt their head while wearing the headset and keep moving forward and backward with the joystick.
For more than 15 years, I have watched protein only on my computer screen. Putting on a virtual reality headset to get inside an actual protein was truly an eye-opening experience for me and my students.”
Francis Yoshimoto, Assistant Professor, UTSA College of Sciences
Virtual reality technology is already used in the biomedical industry. It has, for example, been used to help pharmaceutical companies in their work of designing new drugs; a recent breakthrough for the development of new drugs. By receiving exposure to and training in VR technology, Yoshimoto’s students were able to apply the skills learned in the classroom in a way relevant to a future career in biomedical research. The project is representative of UTSA’s commitment to programs that provide students with a better understanding of the marketable skills needed in the workplace and are especially important in linking success in the classroom to life after graduation. for historically underserved populations.
Yoshimoto and his lab instructors partnered with the university’s Research Computing Support Group to host this virtual reality learning experience.
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