Obstacle race

Cancer cells moving through micron-scale channels

Cancer cells move through 12-micron sized channels in response to differing nutrient concentration, in a study about how cancer spreads to different parts of the body. Image credit: Salil Dasai/Wellcome Images.

This image depicts an obstacle race of sorts: it shows a number of cells trying to move along micron-scale channels to test their response to their chemical environment. When living cells sense a concentration gradient of some chemical they’re interested in so that, say, they sense some nutrient is bigger over there than back-over-here, they may try to hobble over to make the most out of the situation. (And, of course, depending on the kind of cell they may be quite proficient at hobbling over.)

These particular cells are human breast cancer cells racing towards a nutrient called epidermial growth factor. Under normal conditions, these cells are in fact the tendril-tips of an expanding cancerous tumour that’s ready to metastasise – that is, to spread to other tissues and organs. Metastasising cancer cells to not in fact simply drift along wherever the blood or lymphatic fluid it’s in will take them; rather, they actively seek out nice nesting places for offshoot tumours to grow. The study this picture forms part of tries to understand where and why the invading cancer cells will try to move, in an effort to interfere with the process and stop cancer from spreading.

Here the cells completely block the 12-micron channels they’re in which allows researchers to make the concentration different on the forward and backward sides of each cell; this concentration is shown in green. The image technique is also quite interesting for me. The nucleus and mitochondriae have been dyed so that they’ll fluoresce in blue and red, and the rest of the cell, which would normally be invisible, is captured using phase contrast microscopy, which uses interference with a secondary light beam to detect slight delays in light travel time through the cell as compared to the surrounding fluid.

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Random assignment of a picture…

Chicken embryo vascular system. Photograph by Vincent Pasque, University of Cambridge

…And I thought I was lucky enough to get the picture of a brain (I think brains are VERY interesting). Glasses on and looking more closely I find that is a Chicken embryo vascular system. Still looks kind of brainish to me (maybe a bit of background is needed here, I’m a physicist and last time I looked at a biology book was very long ago). A quick search on google images for “human brain cross section” shows me that the ramifications I misunderstood for the ones in a brain are much thinner that what they should be. Well, I’ll go to bed tonight having learnt at least one more thing. But still, I’m assuming the embryo is the figure in the middle, what on earth are those trees?

On reading the description of this Wellcome Trust image, I learn that the tree ramifications at both sides of the embryo are the net of veins and arteries that are used to support  the flow of blood to feed the embryo. Just the mention of blood and a shiver goes down my spine. I’m one of those people who has to look away when getting a blood test (although I’m proud to say I’ve never fainted!). And still I find it amazing that only two days after fertilisation, this system is already in place to make the embryo into a full being. Isn’t Nature amazing?

Just imagine how much work do we (poor humans) have to put into the development of networks. Think of this embryo as a system composed of many elements (in this case organs, cells, etc) just like a city. And the yolk as the resource (wink wink resource theories, QI is never out of my mind really), let’s say the outskirts of a city wherefrom food is retrieved from. Think about how many headaches the development of such a network would cause to any individual in charge of it. Yes, and Nature does it in two days. In my opinion, mind-blowing.

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Arabidopsis thaliana seedling – but what is it?

Fernan Federici & Jim Haseloff, Wellcome images

This amazing image is a described as a “confocal micrograph shows the tissue structures within the leaf of an Arabidopsis thaliana seedling”. However, I have no idea what that is but a quick google search turns up the wiki page which includes a picture of the plant itself.

This scraggly plant to my uneducated eye looks like something  that squeezes its way up through the cracks in the pavement and deserves a good dose of weedkiller.  However, after seeing the seedling image perhaps I’ll feel differently in future.

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It came from the planet Psychodidae…

Scanning Electron Image of a Moth Fly

Scanning Electron image of a Moth Fly (Psychodidae)

…or at least if we lived in the world of B movies, you could expect to meet him looming out of the gloom, but luckily for us, he’s actually way too small to be anything other than a mild nuisance.

This image from the recent Wellcome Image Awards, taken by Kevin MacKenzie at the University of Aberdeen, is actually of a moth fly, aka drain fly, aka a tiny wee guy no more than 4 or 5mm long. They are a common bathroom pest, and no doubt you’ve probably seen one flying woozily around, but probably never stopped to think what he actually looks like face to face… well, here you go – crazy moustache-like feelers, super-hairy legs, and well, actually quite a lot of hair everywhere!

I have to say, I have always had a love affair with scanning electron images. I had my first (and so far only) experience of using a scanning electron microscope during my undergrad degree at the University of Glasgow – I was looking at tadpoles, mainly at how their forelimbs develop, but I also took the opportunity to have a wee swatch inside their mouths. Crazy, eh? Those are tadpole teeth, and are probably not how you’d imagine they looked, which is the joy of using a scanning electron microscope – the most mundane things become so much more fascinating when seen close up.

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Caffeine crystals….

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Caffeine crystals ANNIE CAVANAGH AND DAVID MCCARTHY This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph shows caffeine crystals. Caffeine is a bitter, crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a stimulant drug. In plants, caffeine functions as a defence mechanism. Found in varying quantities … Continue reading

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Cell division – Welcome Images Award 3/16

Cell Division

This composite confocal micrograph uses time-lapse microscopy to show a cancer cell (HeLa) undergoing cell division (mitosis). The DNA is shown in red, and the cell membrane is shown in cyan. The round cell in the centre has a diameter of 20 microns.

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What’s going on in your brain?

Always wondered how your brain exactly works? We might get a clearer idea, as technology progresses we can see the function of the brain by images.

The beautiful image above shows a reflection of connectivity in the brain taken by nuada medial specialist imaging and one of the 2011 Wellcome images award winning photographs.

To give a little introduction in ‘brain imaging’, we can see the anatomy of the brain by MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) since the 70ies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_resonance_imaging).

Since about 10 years, apart from anatomy, we can also see how chemicals and electrical signals are transmitted in the brain.

The medical database ‘Pubmed’ comes up with about a 1000 hits in the past 10 years (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Diffusion%20tensor%20tractography%20).

Hopefully this technology will quickly move out of research settings into practice 🙂

A nice blog on this topic can be found on: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/02/your-brain-on-the-screen/71665/

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