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CellBlender 1.2

Introduction:

CellBlender development is supported by the NIGMS-funded (P41GM103712) National Center for Multiscale Modeling of Biological Systems (MMBioS).

CellBlender 1.2 is an addon for Blender (2.7x) to create computational cell biology models for use in MCell and potentially other cell simulation biophysics engines. With CellBlender, you can define molecules and reactions, create geometric objects, define named surface regions on the objects, assign properties to those regions, run an MCell simulation based off of the CellBlender project, create plots of said simulation, visualize an animation of the molecule trajectories, and render the results.

One goal for CellBlender is to provide a comprehensive model building and visualization environment which completely encapsulates all of MCell's MDL language in GUI form such that the user need not ever edit an MDL file by hand (or even know that such files exist).

Installing CellBlender Addon:

Note that you will not be getting the full value out of CellBlender with Blender and this repo alone, since CellBlender also depends on many other tools. As such, we've begun to produce what we call a CellBlender bundle, which includes Blender itself, the CellBlender addon, a custom verion of Python and necessary libraries, MCell, GAMer, and many other useful tools. To build a bundle, please see the bundle_cellblender repo. If you would still like to use Blender the traditional way, please continue with these instructions.

Blender looks for addons in one of three directories, which are referred to as LOCAL, USER, and SYSTEM. See this Blender documentation for more information. To install in the LOCAL addons directory, you would navigate to whatever directory you extracted or installed Blender. Inside of that main Blender directory, you should find the following file path:

./2.79/scripts/addons

Simply place CellBlender in this addons directory, such that the full path is:

<Blender Directory>./2.79/script/addons/cellblender

Activating CellBlender Addon in Blender:

In the Addons panel scroll down till you see Cell Modeling: CellBlender and check the check box to enable it. Then click Save as Default to enable the addon permanently in Blender for any future projects you make.

Using CellBlender:

For detailed instructions with images, please see http://mcell.org/tutorials/. If you have any questions about CellBlender, feel free to ask us at http://mmbios.org/index.php/mcell-cellblender-forum/.

Additional notes:

If you are hand-editing MDLs, note that CELLBLENDER mode VIZ_OUTPUT will output molecules but will not output meshes. We assume that your meshes are already present in your CellBlender/Blender project. The philosophy here is that the CellBlender/Blender project IS your MCell project and that the MCell compute kernel is a physics engine driving the dynamics of objects created and visualized in Blender.

Depending on your graphics hardware beware, of exporting more than 10000 molecules or so, if you want good performance (>10 frames per second) in CellBlender playback. But if your goal is to render a movie you should be able to export and render many 100s of thousands of molecules per frame with CellBlender.

Parameter Sweeping:

Some newer versions of CELLBLENDER support parameter sweeping via controls in the "Parameters" panel. This creates a subdirectory tree structure containing many different MCell runs.

In order to contain the potentially large number of directories produced, these newer versions of CellBlender put all generated output into the "output_data" subdirectory below the "mcell" folder. Older (non-sweeping) versions did not add this extra subdirectory layer. Those older versions used the following standard directory tree for a Blender file named "MyProject.blend" in some_directory:

.../some_directory/MyProject.blend                   (Blender file)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files                   (Directory of related files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell             (MDL files for running MCell)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)

The newer format adds the "output_data" directory directly below the "mcell" folder as shown here:

.../some_directory/MyProject.blend                               (Blender file)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files                               (Directory of related files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell                         (MCell-Specific files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data             (MDL files for running MCell)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)

That would be the directory layout for a run with no parameters being swept. If any parameters are swept, then an additional subdirectory tree is inserted below the "output_data" subdirectory of that tree and above the react_data and viz_data directories. For example, if a single parameter named "a" were to be swept with values of {3.5, 3.7, and 3.8}, then the directory structure produced by CellBlender would be:

.../some_directory/MyProject.blend                                         (Blender file)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files                                         (Directory of related files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell                                   (MCell-Specific files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data                       (Files related to running MCell)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0             (MDL files for a=3.5)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1             (MDL files for a=3.7)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2             (MDL files for a=3.8)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)

If two parameters (a and b) were being swept with a taking values {3.5, 3.7, 3.8} and b taking values {100, 200} then the directory structure would be:

.../some_directory/MyProject.blend                                                   (Blender file)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files                                                   (Directory of related files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell                                             (MCell-Specific files)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data                                 (Files related to running MCell)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0                       (Directory for a=3.5)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/b_index_0             (MDL files for a=3.5, b=100)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/b_index_0/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/b_index_0/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/b_index_1             (MDL files for a=3.5, b=200)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/b_index_1/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_0/b_index_1/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1                       (Directory for a=3.7)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/b_index_0             (MDL files for a=3.7, b=100)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/b_index_0/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/b_index_0/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/b_index_1             (MDL files for a=3.7, b=200)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/b_index_1/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_1/b_index_1/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2                       (Directory for a=3.8)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/b_index_0             (MDL files for a=3.8, b=100)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/b_index_0/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/b_index_0/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/b_index_1             (MDL files for a=3.8, b=200)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/b_index_1/react_data  (Contains a Directory per seed)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/output_data/a_index_2/b_index_1/viz_data    (Contains a Directory per seed)

In addition to these output files, two additional files are produced during a typical run:

.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/data_model.json    (JSON CellBlender Data Model)
.../some_directory/MyProject_files/mcell/data_layout.json   (JSON description of directory tree)

The first file ("data_model.json") contains a JSON representation of CellBlender's Data Model. This file describes the model and also contains all of the parameter sweeping specifications.

The second file ("data_layout.json") contains a JSON description of the data produced by the run. It can be used by CellBlender and other applications to navigate the directory structure and know the values used for each parameter in the output data directory tree. Here's the "data_layout.json" file for the previous example where two parameters (a and b) are being swept with a taking values {3.5, 3.7, 3.8} and b taking values {100, 200} and 3 seeds {1, 2, 3}:

{
  "version": 0,
  "data_layout": [
    ["/DIR", ["output_data"]],
    ["a", [3.5, 3.7, 3.8]],
    ["b", [100, 200]],
    ["/FILE_TYPE", ["react_data", "viz_data"]],
    ["/SEED", [1, 2, 3]]
  ]
}

This file facilitates automated processing of the output_data tree with the implied assumption that the data is "hyper-rectangular".

These two files (data_model.json and data_layout.json) allow a relatively simple program (or script) to make use of CellBlender's parameters sweeping output for a variety of purposes. At the present time, they are used by CellBlender for plotting and visualization. They are also being used to integrate MCell into Galaxy.

Note that the data_layout.json specification is still under development. It may be redefined so that the special keys of "/DIR" and "/FILE_TYPE" are changed to names or symbols that are not legal MCell parameter names. Note also that the "/DIR" level provides flexibility to change the name "output_data" to some other name or eliminate that directory layer altogether.