The Inside Story

On the 23rd February, the Wellcome Image Trust announced the winners of the Image Awards 2011. Judged by a panel of experts from both scientific and artistic backgrounds, the awards celebrate technical excellence in imaging.

The following image was submitted by Ian Smyth from Monash University:

This striking image captures a mouse embryo using ‘Optical Projection Tomography’- a technique which produces 3D images from light projected through an entire specimen. Denser tissues allow less light to penetrate it, so appear darker. By imaging the specimen as it rotates around 360 degrees, a 3D image can be build up by combining the shadow projections. This relatively new technique has quickly gained a reputation for producing high resolution images at the molecular level, with applications including gene expression.

Monash’s image highlights the developing organs in a mouse embryo. By staining the E-cadherin protein present in the speciment- which plays an important role in cell-cell interactions- the structures of the organs have been marked. The mouth and eyes of the embryo can clearly be seen, as they have significant staining.  If you look closely enough, you can even see the developing urinary tract at the bottom of the image.

Images with this degree of depth and resolution are invaluable to produce accurate and detailed biological images of  specimens and Optical Projection Tomography is at the forefront of advances in 3D images.

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Don’t forget the insect repellent!

I recently went on a holiday to a fantastic country most of you probably haven’t heard of yet: Belize. Well, maybe you know it under its former name, British Honduras – Belize used to be part of the British Empire, hence the official language is English. Which makes travelling a bit easier once you get used to the accent…

Belize certainly is a beautiful country, and since it’s so small you can go from the beautiful beaches on the coast to the depth of the jungle in less than six hours. This gives the country a variety that is just incredible! Have a look at this video to give you an idea:

However, as Belize has a tropical climate (it’s located between Mexico and Guatemala in Central America), one has to be aware of potentially lethal tropical diseases. I consider myself to be a usually well-prepared traveller, but this time I somehow slipped up – I was sure I’d read somewhere that malaria wasn’t present in Belize, so I didn’t take any prophylaxis or even used insect repellent while I was there – it’s so sticky, like suncream! Ugh! At least with suncream I’ve become really thorough, but insect repellent… Well, I’ve now learnt my lesson!

As most of you know, malaria is transmitted by mosquitos. Beautiful creatures, if you have a closer look at them:

Spike Walker, Wellcome Images

However, my look must’ve been a bit too close: three days before the end of my holiday, I came down with a fever. And what a fever! One night I seriously thought someone had emptied an entire bucket of water onto my bed as it was literally dripping with sweat. Well, I’ll spare you any further details, but let me tell you this: the fever came back once a week for a month and a half after I returned home. My GP referred me to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases (HTD), who tested me for all sorts of diseases, including malaria. They were so sure that that’s what it was, I had four tests done – all of them negative…

In the end, as good and thorough as they were, they never found out what it was, and now it’s finally gone. But one thing is certain: for my next holiday, I will 1) go to the HTD before I leave to get all my vaccinations, 2) take malaria prophylaxis while I’m travelling, and 3) use that insect repellent, as annoying and sticky as it might be!

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Tooth decay bacteria for you

This is my first blog post ever and as it happened it is about tooth decay bacteria.

Derren Ready/Wellcome Images

Dental hygiene is certainly nowadays important as ever, however with deeper understanding of the causes and mechanisms which lead to tooth decay and gum diseases we can protect our precious teeth better than ever. It would be really nice if research from this area would lead to some improvements in toothpastes to help conquer all these little enemies better than it is currently possible. I can imagine applying some new generation toothpaste on Monday and then be protected from bacteria for next seven days would be really great step ahead. However I am probably dreaming right now :).

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My first blog…

… and I have to write about a blood clot? Perhaps I’d be more inspired if I were a haematologist…

By Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK, Wellcome Images

Perhaps this is more my thing.

I like the clever addition of colour, though, in the first image. How did they do that?




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Simple Life-Maintaining Structure

The image is a three-dimensional depiction of a mouse kidney on the 16th day of a mouse embryo. The part in green that forms the body of the kidney is the protein of an unspecialised embryonic connective tissue that will ultimately differentiate. The red part in the centre acts as the collecting duct system that when fully developed, will funnel excreted urine into the ureter. It is amazing how an organ with such a simple structure plays such an essential role in maintaining life. For more information on the functions of a kidney, click here.

Developing mouse kidney—Bob Kao and Kieran Short/Wellcome Images

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The 5 day cavefish embryo image from the welcome trust imaging competition looks like an adult fish. Tastebuds and the processed in the nervous system have been stained using a green fluorescence antibody. Cavefishes live in a dark environment and can survive without eyes. Development of eyes at this embryonic stage is fascinating,. Howevee eyes gradually degenerate and become redundant throughout their lifetime. Monica Folgueira, who captured the confocal image beleives research on these species could contribute to our understanding of the influence of environment on brain morphology thriugh adaptation and evolution.

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What A Confocal Microscope Can Do For You

Mouse Retina - Freya Mowat, Wellcome Images

The colourful image above shows the intricate structure of mouse retina, taken by Freya Mowat and one of the 2011 Wellcome Images Award winning photographs.

The image was taken using confocal microscopy, a technique much applied in life sciences to increase the resolution and contrast of the sample of interest. The retina is the part of the eye (in mice, humans and many other animals) that allows the image that comes through the lens to be translated by neurones into signals that the brain can then understand. The sample was artificially stained so the different colours highlight the various types of neurones and cells that form the retina, and which give the image above its vibrant hues.

As well as being plain pretty, the image above is also part of a larger study looking into how the retina is affected by the various effects of stress due to oxygen deprivation. The photographer, Freya Mowat, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Ophthalmology at UCL, who is working as part of a larger project that will hopefully eventually help scientists and medical professionals understand why premie babies are more prone to developing retinal diseases.

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