Category: Cells

Cool Images: Radiant in Red

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Happy Valentine’s Day! In place of red roses, we hope you’ll accept a bouquet of beautiful scientific images featuring rich, red hues. Be sure to click all the way through to see the festive protein flowing through your blood!

For more scientific photos, illustrations, and videos in all the colors of the rainbow, visit our image and video gallery.

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What Does an Immunologist Do?

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This post is part of a miniseries on the immune system. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.

Immunology is the study of the immune system, including all the cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect you from germs. A person who studies immunology is called an immunologist, and there are three types:

  • Researchers, who study the immune system in the laboratory to understand how it works or how it can go awry and find new treatments for immune system-related diseases
  • Doctors, who diagnose and care for patients with diseases related to the immune system, such as food allergies or immunodeficiency
  • Physician-scientists, who are both researchers and doctors and divide their time between the clinic and the laboratory
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What Do Fats Do in the Body?

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It’s common knowledge that too much cholesterol and other fats can lead to disease and that a healthy diet involves watching how much fatty food we eat. However, our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function—and we can’t make it from scratch.

A colorful, flowerlike structure.
Hepatocytes, like the one shown here, are the most abundant type of cell in the human liver. One important role they play is producing bile, a liquid that aids in digesting fats. Credit: Donna Beer Stolz, University of Pittsburgh.

Triglycerides, cholesterol, and other essential fatty acids—the fats our bodies can’t make on their own—store energy, insulate us, and protect our vital organs. They act as messengers, helping proteins do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction, and other aspects of basic metabolism. Fats also help the body stockpile certain nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, for example, are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues.

The cycle of making, breaking, storing, and using fats is at the core of how all animals, including humans, regulate their energy. An imbalance in any step can result in disease. For instance, having too many triglycerides in our bloodstream raises our risk of clogged arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

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How Can the Immune System Go Awry?

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This post is part of a miniseries on the immune system. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.

The immune system is designed to closely monitor the body for signs of intruders that may cause infection. But what happens if it malfunctions? Overactive and underactive immune systems can both have negative effects on your health.

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What Is the Immune System?

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This post is the first in our miniseries on the immune system. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series!
A sphere with evenly spaced blue projections and a pink core.
A computer-generated image of the rotavirus, a virus that commonly causes illness in children through inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Credit: Bridget Carragher, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California.

What do antibodies, mucus, and stomach acid have in common? They’re all parts of the immune system!

The immune system is a trained army of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to block, detect, and eliminate harmful insults to your body. It can protect you from invaders like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

Innate and Adaptive

The immune system is often thought of as two separate platoons: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. Although these two platoons have different jobs and are made up of soldiers with different specialties, they work together to prevent infections.

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What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

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Large clumps of blue, spherical bacteria on a rough, green surface.
Antibiotic resistance is a risk for patients undergoing joint replacement surgery, for example, when the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus group together (blue) and attach to the surface of the implant (green). Credit: Tripti Thapa Gupta, Khushi Patel, and Paul Stoodley, The Ohio State University; Alex Horswill, University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Bacteria can cause many common illnesses, including strep throat and ear infections. If you’ve ever gone to the doctor for one of these infections, they likely prescribed an antibiotic—a medicine designed to fight bacteria. Because bacteria can also cause life-threatening infections, antibiotics have saved many lives. However, the widespread use of antibiotics has fueled a growing problem: antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can survive some or even all antibiotics. Other microorganisms, including fungi, can similarly become resistant to the medicines that are used to treat them. Infections from these microorganisms affect many people and are difficult to treat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S. alone, resistant bacteria and fungi infect 2.8 million people each year, and more than 35,000 die as a result.

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Why Do Cells Die?

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You might know that tiny individual units called cells make up your body. But did you know some of your cells die every day as a part of their normal life cycle? These deaths are balanced by other cells splitting into two identical cells, a process called mitosis.

Two purple- and orange-speckled ovals (cells). The bottom left cell shrinks and becomes several bright yellow circles. The top right cell morphs into thick, bright yellow strands that align along the center of the cell and then pull apart into two new cells.
A confocal microscope films two cells: The cell on the left undergoes a type of cell death called apoptosis, and the one on the right undergoes mitosis. Credit: Dr. Dylan Burnette, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
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Claira Sohn Cultivates Neurons and Diversity in the STEM Community

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A headshot of Claira Sohn.
Credit: Courtesy of Claira Sohn.

Claira Sohn credits her grandfather with sparking her interest in science. Although he never studied science at a 4-year university due to financial limitations, he took many community college classes and worked in chemistry labs developing products such as hair dyes and dissolvable stitches. “Every morning, my grandfather would take me to school, and we’d stop to get orange juice and a cookie and talk about science. When I was in elementary school, he bought me a book about quantum mechanics written for kids,” she says. “He inspired me to ask questions and encouraged me to go to college.”

Claira enrolled at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff after graduating high school. She majored in biomedical sciences and planned to become a medical doctor until her microbiology professor talked to her about the possibility of a research career. “That was an epiphany for me, because while I knew that there was research going on in the world, I didn’t realize there could be a place for me there,” Claira says. During her junior year, she joined the lab of Naomi Lee, Ph.D., where she first experienced what it felt like to be a researcher.

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Building a Digital Immune System

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A headshot of Dr. Helikar.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Tomas Helikar.

The power of computer code has been a longtime fascination for Tomas Helikar, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). In college, when he learned he could use that power to help researchers better understand biology and improve human health, Dr. Helikar knew he’d found his ideal career. Since then, he’s built a successful team of scientists studying the ways we can use mathematical models in biomedical research, such as creating a digital replica of the immune system that could predict how a patient will react to infectious microorganisms and other pathogenic insults.

A Career in Computational Biology

Dr. Helikar first became involved in computer science by learning how to build a website as a high school student. He was amazed to learn that simple lines of computer code could be converted into a functional website, and he felt empowered knowing that he had created a real product from his computer.

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Slideshow: Breathtaking Brains

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The average human brain is only about 3 pounds, but this complex organ punches well above its weight, acting as the control center for the whole body. Many of the brain’s intricacies still aren’t fully understood. To gain more insight into brain processes, scientists often peer into the brains of research organisms such as fruit flies and mice. These organisms have shed light on how our brains maintain circadian rhythms, how neuropsychiatric disorders develop, and more.

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