Video Animations of Living Cells

The Animators of Life

Building on decades of research and mountains of data, scientists and animators are now recreating in vivid and sometimes jaw-dropping detail the complex inner machinery of living cells.

Perhaps the pivotal moment for molecular animations came four years ago with a video called “The Inner Life of the Cell.” Produced by BioVisions, a scientific visualization program at Harvard’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a Connecticut-based scientific animation company called Xvivo, the three-minute film depicts marauding white blood cells attacking infections in the body. 

If there is a Steven Spielberg of molecular animation, it is probably Drew Berry, a cell biologist who works for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. Mr. Berry’s work is revered for artistry and accuracy within the small community of molecular animators, and has also been shown in museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Productive Nanosystems: The Movies

Productive nanosystems are nanoscale machines that make atomically precise products under programmable control, and artificial productive nanosystems will be central to advanced, atomically precise nanotechnologies (see nanotechnology roadmap). Drew’s animations show the productive nanosystems at the foundation of life: The devices that perform RNA-programmed protein synthesis and DNA-programmed synthesis of DNA and RNA.

What is striking about the videos is how much Drew gets right, and how well he handles the necessary cheats forced on animators by the impossibility of showing the millions of random molecular motions that typically occur between the significant biomolecular events.