Peter M. Sforza and Jon D. Eisenback

Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

This paper prepared for ITS 2001


In 1915, N.A. Cobb had a vision of nematodes:


...if all the matter in the universe
except the nematodes were swept away,
our world would still be dimly recognizable...

                                                     -N.A. Cobb, 1915

Here is an alternate version of the world being swept away. 
(3.6 MB avi) or (5.2 MB mov)

The Virtual Nematode uses 3-D animations and virtual reality environments as visual teaching aids for several concepts in plant parasitic nematology. The end product is intended to supplement a lecture. Visualization may enhance a viewer's perception and retention of the information presented.  This may be particularly important in teaching scientific or technical material containing complex concepts. Current and future advances in information technology provide unique opportunities for innovative teaching approaches.

A Nematode’s Perspective

The minute size of nematodes often makes them difficult to manipulate and study. Viewing a nematode under a microscope can cause the nematode appear 2-dimensional, making it difficult to understand the morphology and anatomy in 3-dimensions. Using 3-D models and virtual reality environments, we can scale down our size to that of a grain of sand and study the structure and activities of the nematode from a new perspective. More ...

Anterior view of a juvenile root knot nematode.
(M. incognita)

(563 KB avi)
(903 KB mov)

Juvenile nematode probing the root surface.


Juvenile root knot nematode puncturing the root with stylet thrusts.

(349 KB avi)
(520 KB mov)

View of the nematode lumen and esophagus and  pumping of the triradiate esophagus.

(2.6 MB avi)
(5.0 MB mov)

The Virtual Agroecosystem

The Virtual Agroecosystem is an ongoing project to create virtual reality (VR) worlds for the visualization of agroecosystem concepts and processes, particularly those related to plant pathology and weed science. The Virtual Agroecosystem is a 3-D model based on a working farm in eastern Virginia. Once completed, the farm will be explored in real-time and hyperlinks lead the user to more detailed virtual worlds for specific topics. For example, navigating down a stairway that leads into the soil profile causes a new scene to appear that illustrates weed seed distribution for different tillage regimes. Here is a Flash version of weed seed distributions. For the Virtual Nematode, a patch of symptomatic plants will link to a nematode scene. The VR worlds are experienced in a VR environment such as the CAVETM technology at Virginia Tech or VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) for the world wide web. The Virtual Nematode is the latest addition to the Virtual Agroecosystem. Other Virtual Agroecosystem scenes include 

  • Bacteria - Gram negative and Gram positive cell walls (html) (flt)*
  • Bacteria - Agrobacterium tumefaciens images and animations (html) and (flash)
  • Fungus - virtual Cercospora (flt) under construction
  • Weeds - the virtual dandelion (html) (flt) (vrml)  
  • Weed seed distribution (Flash)
  • Viruses - TMV, luteovirus, and geminivirus images and animations (html)
  • Serology - DAS-ELISA animation completed 5/25/01 (html)

* flt = OpenFlight format for VR

Creation of 3-D Models and Animations

3-dimensional models and animations were created on a desktop computer using 3-D Studio Max® software from Kinetix. This powerful software allows the user to create 3-D geometry, manipulate it's form and texture, modify the objects in numerous ways, and then animate the scene. The possibilities are limited only by one's imagination, experience, and knowledge of the tools in the design environment. Finally, the scene can be rendered or exported as various formats, including still images (e.g. jpg, gif), animations (e.g. mov, avi), and virtual worlds (e.g. wrl, iv). Additional software used includes Adobe Photoshop for design of textures for 3-D objects and Adobe Premiere for video editing.  

I have attempted to balance the level of realism with a cartoon-like simplicity in these visualizations. However, there is no substitute for reality. Constructive comments are always welcome.