Tonal interface to MacroMolecules (TIMMol): A textual and tonal tool for molecular visualization

Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2008 May;36(3):203-8. doi: 10.1002/bmb.20183.


We developed the three-dimensional visualization software, Tonal Interface to MacroMolecules or TIMMol, for studying atomic coordinates of protein structures. Key features include audio tones indicating x, y, z location, identification of the cursor location in one-dimensional and three-dimensional space, textual output that can be easily linked to speech or Braille output, and the ability to scroll along the main chain backbone of a protein structure. This program was initially designed for visually impaired users, and it already has shown its effectiveness in helping a blind researcher study X-ray crystal structure data. Subsequently, TIMMol has been enhanced with a graphical display to act as a bridge to ease communication between sighted and visually impaired users as well as to serve users with spatial visualization difficulties. We performed a pilot study to assess the efficacy of the program in conveying three-dimensional information about proteins with and without graphical output to a general scientific audience. Attitudes regarding using TIMMol were assessed using Rasmol, a common visualization package, for comparison. With the use of text and tones exclusively, a majority of users were able to identify specific secondary structure elements, three-dimensional relationships among atoms, and atoms coordinating a ligand. In addition, a majority of users saw benefits in using TIMMol and would recommend it to those having difficulty with standard tools.