Molecular Animation Gone Wild

XVIVO has done it again! The Connecticut-based scientific animation company that brought us the wildly popular animation The Inner Life of the Cell (see video at bottom of post) has recently released a new animation entitled Powering the Cell: Mitochondria. The video is a stunning display of graphical talent and an engaging way to help viewers visualize science at a molecular level.

News of XVIVOs latest triumph has received a lot of attention due to a well publicized article in today’s issue of the New York Times. Below is a short explanatory video that appeared in today’s NY Times online edition.

Browsing through the XVIVO website I noticed that there are several types of animations ranging from purely graphical animations with music (such as the Inner Life of the Cell and Powering the Cell) to animations that are accompanied by vocal explanations and have been produced for clients such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) or Zirus Antivirotics.

As a bench-based molecular biologist, I have a difficult time rating the usefulness of these videos for educational purposes. The Inner Life of the Cell was produced in conjunction with Harvard’s BioVisions scientific visualization program and I believe is being used as a teaching tool in molecular biology classrooms. Watching the video certainly helps give context to what can otherwise be an abstract concept for the uninitiated molecular biologist. It also involves a healthy dose of creativity on the part of the animators since what is being visualized actually occurs below the wavelength of light and therefore does not really have a visual representation. On the other hand, the lack of a vocal explanation in some of the videos may make it difficult for a students to identify molecular structures and to put events in context.

XVIVO also produces narrated animations such as the Life cycle of H1N1 influenza-A virus and the methodology used to find appropriate targets done for Zirus Antivirotics which is a visually pleasing video accompanied by an excellent explanation of onscreen events. These types of videos, while leaving little room for the imagination, seem to be a more superior teaching tool than videos that only have musical accompaniment.

What is your opinion of molecular animation? I would love to hear from other molecular biologists out there. Have you found molecular animation videos useful or do you feel that they rely too much on creativity rather than on cold, hard facts?

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