Cells are the smallest units of life, providing structure and function for all living things, from microorganisms—like bacteria, algae, and yeast—to humans. They come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and they’re complex machines with many smaller components that work together.
Some NIGMS-funded researchers use imaging techniques to peer inside cells, examine their structures, and study how they divide, grow, communicate, and carry out basic functions. Others use biochemical and genetic tests to study how cells interact with their environments, including those that may be toxic. Understanding cells’ biological processes helps to keep us healthy and identify new methods for treating disease.
Take our quiz to test how well you know cells. Afterward, check out our Studying Cells fact sheet and other blog posts on cell biology.
Continue reading “Quiz: How Does Your Knowledge of Life’s Building Blocks Stack Up?”
If you’re looking for ways to engage students in science this school year, NIGMS offers a range of free resources that can help. All of our STEM materials are online and print-friendly, making them easy to use for remote teaching.
Pathways , developed in collaboration with Scholastic, is aligned with STEM and ELA education standards for grades 6 through 12. Materials include:
- Student magazines with corresponding teaching guides
- Related lessons with interactives
- Vocabulary lists
Cover of Pathways
student magazine, third issue.
Available lessons examine basic science careers, regeneration, and circadian rhythms.
Continue reading “Explore Our STEM Education Resources for the New School Year”
Wildlife photos can be truly stunning, and cute cat pictures are a cornerstone of the internet. But zooming in on the early lives of fish, insects, and worms can have equally wonderful results. Using powerful microscopes, researchers are revealing the complexity and beauty of animal development.
Credit: James E. Hayden, The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA.
This image captures the spiral-shaped ovary of an anglerfish in cross section. Once matured, these eggs will be released in a gelatinous, floating mass. For some species of anglerfish, this egg mass can be up to 3 feet long and include nearly 200,000 eggs.
Continue reading “Cool Images: Animal Development in Progress”
Mitochondria (purple) in a rodent heart muscle cell. Credit: Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research.
Mitochondria (mitochondrion in singular) are indispensable. Every cell of our bodies, apart from mature red blood cells, contains the capsule-shaped organelles that generate more than 90 percent of our energy, which is why they’re often called “the powerhouse of the cell.” They produce this energy by forming adenosine triphosphate (ATP), our cells’ most common energy source. But mitochondria also support cells in other ways. For example, they help cells maintain the correct concentration of calcium ions, which are involved in blood clotting and muscle contraction. Mitochondria are also the only structure in our cells with their own unique DNA, which with rare exceptions, is inherited only from mothers. That’s why, in honor of Mother’s Day, we’re exploring this special cellular connection to moms.
Continue reading “The Maternal Magic of Mitochondria”
Note to our Biomedical Beat readers: Echoing the sentiments NIH Director Francis Collins made on his blog, NIGMS is making every effort during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep supporting the best and most powerful science. In that spirit, we’ll continue to bring you stories across a wide range of NIGMS topics. We hope these posts offer a respite from the coronavirus news when needed.
Asymmetry in our bodies plays an important role in how they work, affecting everything from function of internal systems to the placement and shape of organs. Take a look at your hands. They are mirror images of each other, but they’re not identical. No matter how you rotate them or flip them around, they will never be the same. This is an example of chirality, which is a particular type of asymmetry. Something is chiral if it can’t overlap on its mirror image.
Our hands are chiral: They’re mirror images but aren’t identical.
Scientists are exploring the role of chirality and other types of asymmetry in early embryonic development. Understanding this relationship during normal development is important for figuring out how it sometimes goes wrong, leading to birth defects and other medical problems.
Continue reading “Twisting and Turning: Unraveling What Causes Asymmetry”
If you’re looking for engaging ways to teach science from home, NIGMS offers a range of resources that can help.
A SEPA-funded resource about microbes. Credit: University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
Our Science Education and Partnership Award (SEPA) webpage features free, easy-to-access STEM and informal science education projects for pre-K through grade 12. Aligned with state and national standards for STEM teaching and learning, the program has tools such as:
- Online books
- Curricula and lesson plans
- Short movies
Students can learn about sleep, cells, growth, microbes, a healthy lifestyle, genetics, and many other subjects.
Continue reading “Explore Our Virtual Learning STEM Resources”
Microbiota in the intestines. Credit: iStock.
Research on how diet impacts the gut microbiota has rapidly expanded in the last several years. Studies show that diets rich in red meat are linked to diseases such as colon cancer and heart disease. In both mice and humans, researchers have recently discovered differences in the gut microbiota of those who eat diets rich in red meat compared with those who don’t. This is likely because of a sugar molecule in the red meat, called N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), that our bodies can’t break down. Researchers believe the human immune system sees Neu5Gc as foreign. This triggers the immune system, causing inflammation in the body, and possibly leads to disease over time.
Continue reading “The Meat of the Matter: Learning How Gut Microbiota Might Reduce Harm from Red Meat”
Transformations aren’t just for people or pets around Halloween. Scientific images also can look different than you might expect, depending on how they’re photographed. Check out these tricky-looking images and learn more about the science behind them.
Credit: Nilay Taneja, Vanderbilt University, and Dylan T. Burnette, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Do you have a hunch about what this image is? Perhaps something to do with dry leaves? It’s a human fibroblast cell undergoing cell division, or cytokinesis, into two daughter cells. Cytokinesis is essential for the growth and development of new cells. And fibroblasts play a big role in wound healing by helping with contraction and closure.
Continue reading “Cool Images: A Colorful—and Halloween-Inspired—Collection”
Credit: Zvonimir Dogic, Brandeis University.
Imagine an army of tiny soldiers stationed throughout your body, lining cells from your brain to every major organ system. Rather than standing at attention, this tiny force sweeps back and forth thousands of times a minute. Their synchronized action helps move debris along the ranks to the nearest opening. Other soldiers stand as sentries, detecting changes in your environment, relaying that information to your brain, and boosting your senses of taste, smell, sight, and hearing.
Your brain may be the commander in chief, but these rank-and-file soldiers are made up of microscopic cell structures called cilia (cilium in singular).
Here we describe these tiny but mighty cell structures in action.
Continue reading “Cilia: Tiny Cell Structures With Mighty Functions”
Happy Fat Tuesday!
On this day, celebrated in many countries with lavish parties and high-fat foods, we’re recognizing the importance of fats in the body.
You’ve probably heard about different types of fat, such as saturated, trans, monounsaturated, omega-3, and omega-6. But fats aren’t just ingredients in food. Along with similar molecules, they fall under the broad term lipids and serve critical roles in the body. Lipids protect your vital organs. They help cells communicate. They launch chemical reactions needed for growth, immune function, and reproduction. They serve as the building blocks of your sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone).
Here we feature five of the hundreds of lipids that are essential to health.
Continue reading “Five Fabulous Fats”