Category: Cells

Slideshow: Mitosis Masterpieces

0 comments

The intricate process of mitosis—a cell splitting into two identical daughter cells—plays a pivotal role in sustaining life. Many scientists study this process to understand what’s needed for it to progress normally and why it sometimes goes awry, such as in cancer. During their research, the scientists often create eye-catching images and videos, and we showcase some of those visuals here.

Continue reading “Slideshow: Mitosis Masterpieces”

Science Snippet: Get to Know Your Nerve Cells!

2 comments

Nerve cells, also known as neurons, carry information through our bodies using electrical impulses and chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. A nerve cell’s size and shape depend on its role and location, but nearly all nerve cells have three main parts:

  • Dendrites that extend like branches and receive signals
  • A cell body containing the nucleus that holds the genetic material of the cell and controls its actions
  • An axon, a long structure that transmits messages
An illustration of a nerve cell that shows a round cell body with dendrites and a long axon branching away from it.
A typical nerve cell. Credit: iStock.
Continue reading “Science Snippet: Get to Know Your Nerve Cells!”

Photographing the Physics of Cells

0 comments
Dr. Lakadamyali sitting behind a large, complex microscope in a lab.
Dr. Melike Lakadamyali with a microscope. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Lakadamyali.

“It would be a dream come true if I could look at a cell within a tissue and have a Google Maps view to zoom in until I saw individual molecules,” says Melike Lakadamyali, Ph.D., an associate professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her lab is helping make part of that dream a reality by developing super-resolution microscopy tools that visualize cells at a near-molecular level.

Blending Physics and Biology

Science and math fascinated Dr. Lakadamyali since childhood, and she felt especially drawn to physics because she enjoyed using logic to solve problems. After graduating high school in her native country of Cyprus, she chose to study physics at the University of Texas, Austin. She never gave much thought to applying physics methods to biological
questions—a field known as biophysics—until her third year as an undergraduate, when she gained her first research experience in the lab of Josef Käs, Ph.D.

Continue reading “Photographing the Physics of Cells”

In Other Words: Not All Tissues Are For Runny Noses

3 comments

When most of us hear the word tissue, we think of something we reach for when we have a runny nose. But in biology, a tissue is a group of cells that act together to carry out a specific function.

Below the title “Tissue: In Other Words,” two images are separated by a jagged line. On the left is a box of tissues, and on the right is an image of brain tissue showing individual cells. Under the images, text reads: “Did you know? In biomedical science, tissue refers to a group of cells that act together to carry out a specific function in the body.”
Credit: NIGMS; and Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman, NCMIR.

Your body has four basic types of tissues:

  • Muscle tissue provides movement. Types include voluntary muscles, like those in the arms and legs, and involuntary muscles, such as those that move food through the digestive system.
  • Nervous tissue carries messages throughout the body and includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.
  • Connective tissue supports other tissues and binds them together. Examples include ligaments, tendons, bones, and fat.
  • Epithelial tissue creates protective barriers and includes the skin and the linings of internal passageways.
Together, these different tissues form organs. For example, the stomach contains all four basic types of tissues.

Continue reading “In Other Words: Not All Tissues Are For Runny Noses”

Career Conversations: Q&A with Structural Biologist Lauren Parker Jackson

0 comments
Dr. Lauren Parker Jackson. Credit: Vanderbilt University.

“A confusing experimental result almost always means you’ve stumbled upon something interesting and maybe even exciting. I think that’s what makes science fun,” says Lauren Parker Jackson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. Check out the highlights of our interview with Dr. Jackson to learn how she became a biologist and what she studies in her lab.

Q: What sparked your interest in science?

A: I credit my high school chemistry, physics, and biology teachers with getting me interested in science. They were quirky, they were talented, they were energetic, and they weren’t afraid to push us. As a teenager, I did a lot of science fairs and quiz bowls, where two teams compete to answer academic questions. As a high school junior, I took part in the Governor’s School for the Sciences and Engineering, where I spent a month at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, studying chemistry in a lab. That exposed me to research for the first time.

Continue reading “Career Conversations: Q&A with Structural Biologist Lauren Parker Jackson”

Science Snippet: The Marvels of Membranes

0 comments

Like skin that covers and protects our bodies, membranes surround and protect cells and organelles. Membranes are semi-fluid barriers composed mainly of lipids and proteins. They provide structure; control the import and export of molecules such as ions, nutrients, and toxins; and support cellular communication.

An illustration of a cell cut in half with gray lines indicating its borders and borders of adjacent cells. The cell contains a variety of round and oblong structures in several colors.
A cross section of a cell with its membrane and adjacent cell membranes outlined in gray. The colorful structures are organelles with membranes. Credit: Judith Stoffer.

The lipids that compose membranes are primarily phospholipids. (Cholesterol is another lipid often present in membranes that helps regulate their stiffness.) Phospholipids have hydrophilic (water-loving) “heads” and hydrophobic (water-fearing) “tails.” Within the human body, a water-loving environment, they line up so that their tails face one another and their heads point outward. In membranes, this alignment makes a bilayer barrier that is two lipid molecules deep.

Continue reading “Science Snippet: The Marvels of Membranes”

In Other Words: The Pathways Inside Our Bodies

0 comments

For many people, the word pathway may bring to mind stepping stones in a garden or a trail through a forest. But when biologists talk about a pathway, they’re referring to a series of actions among molecules in a cell that leads to a certain product or change within that cell. Pathways maintain balance during walking, control how the eyes’ pupils respond to light, and affect skin’s reaction to changing temperature. They control our bodies’ responses to the world, and errors in them can lead to disease.

Continue reading “In Other Words: The Pathways Inside Our Bodies”

Career Conversations: Q&A with Biologist Akhila Rajan

0 comments
A headshot of Dr. Akhila Rajan. Dr. Akhila Rajan. Credit: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“What makes being a scientist exciting is that I don’t know what I’m going to find tomorrow,” says Akhila Rajan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the basic sciences division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Rajan is supported by an NIGMS early stage investigator Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award. These awards provide stable and flexible funding for a program of research that falls within NIGMS’ mission. Check out the highlights of our interview with Dr. Rajan to learn about her research and journey as a scientist.

Continue reading “Career Conversations: Q&A with Biologist Akhila Rajan”

Cool Images: Spooky and Spectacular

0 comments

It’s the spookiest time of the year! To celebrate Halloween, we’re showcasing scientific images that capture the spirit of the holiday, from a brain shaped like a bat to protein “cobwebs” in a quail embryo. Check out our image and video gallery for even more scientific photos, illustrations, and videos.

Cool Images
A tadpole-shaped creature outlined in blue, with branching green structures throughout its body.
The eerie green “skeleton” in this photo is really the vasculature (blood vessels) of a zebrafish embryo. The blue areas are cell bodies. Zebrafish are useful research organisms for studying development because their eggs and embryos are see-through, making it easy for scientists to watch changes take place.
Credit: Andreas Velten, Eliceiri Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fourteen mosquito larvae resembling orange worms grouped together.
Researchers edited the genes of these creepy-crawly mosquito larvae using a technique called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). This species of mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, can transmit diseases including West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, and avian malaria. The gene-editing toolkit used on these larvae could ultimately help stop Culex quinquefasciatus from spreading pathogens.
Credit: Gantz Lab, University of California, San Diego.
Weblike structures over a group of green spots.
The “cobwebs” in this image are actually a protein called vimentin in a quail embryo. The green spots are cell nuclei. Vimentin is part of the cytoskeleton and helps cells maintain their structure and resist mechanical stress. The protein is found in many animals and in humans.
Credit: Evan Zamir, Georgia Tech.

Science Snippet: Brush Up on Biofilms

1 comment

A biofilm is a highly organized community of microorganisms that develops naturally on certain surfaces. Typically, biofilms are made up of microbes and an extracellular matrix that they produce. This matrix can include polysaccharides (chains of sugars), proteins, lipids, DNA, and other molecules. The matrix gives the biofilm structure and helps it stick to a surface.

Formation of a biofilm often involves a process called quorum sensing. In this process, microbes detect when they reach a certain population density and change their behavior in ways that help them function as a community.

Continue reading “Science Snippet: Brush Up on Biofilms”