Interdisciplinary exploration is vital to education in the 21st century. This manuscript outlines an innovative laboratory-based teaching method that combines elements of biochemistry/molecular biology, kinesiology/health science, computer science, and manufacturing engineering to give students the ability to better conceptualize complex biological systems. Here, we utilize technology available at most universities to print three-dimensional (3D) scale models of actual human muscle cells (myofibers) out of bioplastic materials. The same methodological approach could be applied to nearly any cell type or molecular structure. This advancement is significant because historically, two-dimensional (2D) myocellular images have proven insufficient for detailed analysis of organelle organization and morphology. 3D imaging fills this void by providing accurate and quantifiable myofiber structural data. Manipulating tangible 3D models combats 2D limitation and gives students new perspectives and alternative learning experiences that may assist their understanding. This approach also exposes learners to 1) human muscle cell extraction and isolation, 2) targeted fluorescence labeling, 3) confocal microscopy, 4) image processing (via open-source software), and 5) 3D printing bioplastic scale-models (×500 larger than the actual cells). Creating these physical models may further student's interest in the invisible world of molecular and cellular biology. Furthermore, this interdisciplinary laboratory project gives instructors of all biological disciplines a new teaching tool to foster integrative thinking.
Keywords: additive manufacturing; cellular biology; confocal microscopy; muscle fiber; teaching and learning techniques methods and approaches.
© 2015 The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.