Virus Capsid Geometries and the Coral Reef Ark Project.

In 2024, I was invited to join the Coral Reef Ark project.

In an effort to better understand at-risk coral reefs and help support and preserve them, marine virologist Forest Rohwer and doctoral candidate Jason Baer have launched structures called Coral Arks that act like floating zoos into the ocean. The aim of the Arks is to create miniature coral reefs suspended off the seafloor, providing improved conditions for corals and all the other organisms that help keep them healthy. Eventually, the team hopes to use what they learn from these Arks to create Reef Ark Parks to house, protect and propagate global coral reef biodiversity.

My goal is to create prints that can be folded into the geodesic shapes of coral phages and virus capsids, to explain the cross-disciplinary research between virology and coral reefs.

I am sharing preliminary ideas of what I will be working on in 2024. I am excited to share the final results by the end of the year!

It was noted at the January 2024 Desert Arks workshop, that the arks would benefit from an increased surface area to provide more substrate for coral settlement and to offer an inviting benthic environment for other organisms, such as sea urchins. To provide this, it was suggested that the arks should be filled with a fractal-like structure.

I suggest that Kirigami, a Japanese method of cutting and folding flat surfaces, can be an effective tool for a three-dimensional, fractal design inside the coral arks. The simplicity of the Kirigami approach makes it easy to output in a variety of shapes and compositions to research their effect.

Below are first ideas emerging from experimentation with paper models. A visual and artistic perspective guides them. 

“Coral Reef Arks are scientific research tools, as well as devices for coral reef conservation and restoration. The Arks were designed using principles from virology. First, we know that coral reefs are essentially viralized ecosystems, where bacterial viruses keep microbial communities in check. Forcings, like overfishing and increased temperatures, lead to microbialized reefs and coral decline. The Coral Reef Arks create a viralized environment that promote coral reef health.

The second main virology influence on the Coral Reef Arks project comes from virion shapes. About 3.5 billion years before humans started to understand basic geometric forms, viruses were using the major capsid protein (a.k.a., MCP) to build super-strong shells to protect the genetic materials. The Coral Reef Arks are built using the same mathematical rules to minimize the amount of material necessary to enclose a volume. The resulting hydrodynamics creates conditions that favor coral growth.”

Forest Rohwer

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