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Clathrin cage

Maria Voigt, RCSB Protein Data Bank

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Clathrin is a protein found in cells which forms basket- or cage-like structures around small membrane sacs. These clathrin cages help bring molecules into the cell and then carry them around inside from one place to another. They also help sort through the molecules (which can include receptors and nutrients) so that different cargo is efficiently delivered to different destinations. Some disease-causing germs and toxins hijack this process and use it to infect cells.

When the cage is not being used it breaks up into smaller pieces, which get recycled. Each building block of the cage is a triskelion, a pattern of three bent legs (dark blue) joined together with three short rods (light blue) attached.

Clathrin cages can form in different sizes, usually less than 200 nanometres (0.0002 mm) across. This particular cage is approximately 50 nanometres (0.00005 mm) across.

Imaging technique: digital illustration

This digital illustration was created using scientific data (Protein Data Bank entry 1xi4) on the sequence, shape, size and fit of the building blocks and assembled cages. Information about the structure of this clathrin cage was obtained by cryogenic electron microscopy, which involves rapidly freezing the sample at -180°C (-292°F) and then gathering information about how X-rays behave as they come into contact with it. This information is further analysed to determine the 3D molecular structure of the protein.

Location where image was created

Piscataway, New Jersey, USA

Why did the judges choose this image?

“This image is a great example of an insightful scientific illustration that visualises real data in an interesting, accurate and informative way. Illustrations this clear are a godsend in science communication, where sometimes even the easiest idea or process can be difficult to conceptualise.”

James Cutmore, Picture Editor of BBC Focus

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