Art Project

Building the HPV Capsid


Style:  visual arts

Medium:  modelling clay


Research: virions, capsomeres, capsids, HPV capsid, geometric symmetry in nature.

Conceptualizing: Modelling clay allowed a space-filling construct which could be used to show organizational elements. This also allowed me to create the functional purpose of a jewelry or knickknack box.

Construction: Once I picked a shape to represent capsomeres (small spheres), it took some time to make 360. Unfortunately, there was limited surface area on each sphere to prep for connection scoring. They became distorted as I “mooshed” them into neighbors. In this respect, this model poorly represented the spaces naturally occurring between capsomeres in a capsid. I then assembled the clusters into arrangements of six clusters. Assembled, each half of the functional piece contained six arrangements of six clusters. Notably, my capsomere clusters were arranged as 2D pentagons. This is not an accurate representation of how the natural proteins would assemble. The conformation of each naturally occurring cluster is consistent with other clusters, however, which I did reflect here.

Microbiology Concept:  I explored the symmetry found in nature. In this case, my reference was abiotic, but certainly found in nature and microbiology. I tried to build an icosohedral capsid reflecting the arrangement of proteins in the HPV capsid. I was intrigued by how 72 capsomere clusters could be symmetrically divided between 20 faces, while still reflecting the 12 vertices as points rather than non-specific areas. I wanted to show how even non-geometric shapes such as proteins could demonstrate geometric symmetry when arranged in repeating patterns. As an aside from symmetry, I demonstrated the “hollow” nature of the capsid shell around nucleic acid by showing both circular and linear genetic elements inside the opened model.

Cluster of 5 Capsomeres
72 Clusters of Five Capsomeres
Assembled Capsid
Opened Capsid with Circular and Linear Genetic Elements