Biochemistry, Department of


Date of this Version



Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, Volume 19, Number 3,



©2018 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license


Understanding the intricate relationship between macromolecular structure and function represents a central goal of undergraduate biology education (1–3). In teaching complex three-dimensional (3D) concepts, instructors typically depend on static two-dimensional (2D) textbook images or computer-based visualization software, which can lead to unintended misconceptions (4–6). While chemical and molecular kits exist, these models cannot handle the size and detail of macromolecules. Consequently, students may graduate in the life sciences without understanding how structure underlies function or acquiring skills to translate between 2D and 3D molecular models (5, 7). Building on recent technological advances, 3D printing (3DP) potentiates an era in which students learn through direct interaction with dynamic 3D structural models. With 3DP, instructors have the opportunity to use tailor-made models of virtually any size molecule. For example, protein models can be designed to relate enzyme active site structures to kinetic activity. Furthermore, instructors can use diverse printing materials and accessories to demonstrate molecular properties, dynamics, and interactions (Fig. 1). In this article and supplemental guide, we present an example of how to incorporate a 3D model-based lesson on DNA supercoiling in an undergraduate biochemistry classroom and best practices for designing and printing 3D models.