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Swap Viruses the Safe Way with New Viral Trading Cards

Viruses have plagued life forms since life was a thing, but Seattle-based designer and molecular biologist Eleanor Lutz has found a way to neutralize their infectious potential … by turning them into trading cards. Now on display at Lutz’s blog Tabletop Whale, viruses come to life in 3D animated trading cards that come complete with stats, symptoms, and a brief description of the microscopic bug. It’s a fantastic way to spread information about viruses without worrying about spreading the virus itself.

Each card displays the surprisingly symmetric viral capsid (a protein shell that envelopes genetic material) along with a unique ID number assigned by the Worldwide Protein Data Bank. Check out the current selection of 3D-animated virus trading cards in GIF form below, along with more information on their real-world inspirations:


Chlorella, which should not be confused with the deadly bacteria that cause cholera, is a genus of single-cell green algae that live inside hosts like Paramecium bursaria. Chlorella act as endosymbionts: organisms that live inside hosts while providing and receiving a benefit. In this case, the Chlorella are protected from infection by the above-seen virus when they’re safely nestled inside the unicellular protozoan, which obtains food in return thanks to the Chlorella’s photosynthetic abilities.


Making headlines recently thanks to the controversial vaccine it’s associated with, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Though not directly life-threatening, HPV can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. The maxim “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies quite well to HPV, especially now that an effective vaccine is widely available in the U.S.


This trading card would likely be a Common type that you’d find in every booster pack and expansion set. It’s even in the Adenovirus’ more familiar name: the Common Cold. These perpetual pests take their name from the tissue they were first isolated from back in 1953: human adenoids, otherwise known as tonsils.


Occurring in tropical and subtropical regions, the Dengue virus is responsible for the sickness which bears its name: Dengue Fever. This potentially life-threatening disease, for which no vaccine currently exists, only began seriously afflicting humans within the last few hundred years, once we became part of their natural life cycle that includes mosquitoes as vectors, or “messengers.” Dengue virus is also related to the Zika virus, which recently had its 3D structure uploaded to the Worldwide Protein Data Bank. Perhaps Zika is the next critter that will undergo Lutz’s virus trading card treatment.


3D Structure of the Zika Virus. Image via Purdue University.

Lutz’s satisfyingly nerdy virus trading cards were created using the free molecular modeling program UCSF Chimera, and they can even be 3D printed. While these are very cool, my personal preference for giving and receiving viruses are the plush versions created by Giant Microbes:


Dengue Fever plush from Giant Microbes.


HPV plush toy from Giant Microbes.

Will these new viral trading cards prove to be infectious? Do you already have the collector’s fever? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Images: Tabletop Whale, Giant Microbes, Worldwide Protein Data Bank

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