The best scientific images of the year have been revealed in the run up to the Wellcome Image Awards 2017. The series of eye-opening snaps reveal the complexity of life in stunning detail.
MicroRNA scaffold cancer therapy
Short genetic sequences called microRNAs, which control the proper function and growth of cells, are being investigated by researchers as a possible cancer therapy.
The two microRNAs used have different mechanisms of action and work together as a two-pronged attack: one is a tumour suppressor, and the other is an anti-microRNA, meaning that it prevents a mutated, tumour-promoting microRNA from functioning.
Language pathways of the brain
The brain is composed of two types of matter. Grey matter contains cells, and is responsible for processing information. White matter connects these areas of grey matter, allowing information to be transferred between distant areas of the brain.
Intraocular lens ‘iris clip’
This image shows how an ‘iris clip’, also known as an artificial intraocular lens (IOL), is fitted onto the eye. An iris clip is a small, thin lens made from silicone or acrylic material, and has plastic side supports, called haptics, to hold it in place. An iris clip is fixed to the iris through a 3mm (0.1 in.) surgical incision, and is used to treat conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness) and cataracts (cloudiness of the lens). This particular patient, a 70-year-old man, regained almost full vision following his surgery.
Hawaiian bobtail squid
Native to the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiian bobtail squid are nocturnal predators that remain buried under the sand during the day and come out to hunt for shrimp near coral reefs at night. The squid have a light organ on their underside that houses a colony of glowing bacteria called Vibrio fischeri. The squid provide food and shelter for these bacteria in return for their bioluminescence.
This image shows a baby Hawaiian bobtail squid, measuring just 1.5cm (0.6 in.) across.
Developing spinal cord
Our spines allow us to stand and move, and they protect the spinal cord, which connects all the nerves in our body with our brain. The spinal cord is formed from a structure called the neural tube, which develops during the first month of pregnancy. This series of three images shows the open end of a mouse’s neural tube, with each image highlighting (in blue) one of the three main embryonic tissue types. On the left is the neural tube itself, which develops into the brain, spine and nerves. On the right is the surface ectoderm – the word ‘ectoderm’ comes from the Greek ektos meaning ‘outside’ and derma meaning skin – which will eventually form the skin, teeth and hair. The middle image shows the mesoderm (also from Greek, meaning ‘middle skin’), which will form the organs.
Cat skin and blood supply
A polarised light micrograph of a section of cat skin, showing hairs, whiskers and their blood supply. This sample is from a Victorian microscope slide. Blood vessels were injected with a red dye called carmine dye (here appearing black) in order to visualise the capillaries in the tissue, a newly developed technique at the time. This image is a composite made up of 44 individual images stitched together to produce a final one 12mm (0.5 in.) in width.
Here, fine hairs (yellow), thicker whisker (yellow) and blood vessels (black) are all visible. Whiskers, unlike normal hair, are touch receptors, each containing a sensory organ called a proprioceptor. When a cat’s whiskers touch something, or feel vibrations in the air from a moving object, signals are sent from them to the brain to provide spatial awareness. Whiskers are therefore both a valuable hunting and survival tool.
Neural stem cells have the ability to form all the different cell types found in the nervous system. Here, researchers are investigating how neural stem cells grow on a synthetic gel called PEG. After just two weeks, the stem cells (magenta) produced nerve fibres (green). These fibres grew away from the cell due to chemical gradients in the gel, teaching researchers about how their environment affects structural organisation.
This work supports the Human-on-a-Chip project, which is addressing the inefficiency and cost of traditional drug testing. Researchers have devised ways of growing miniature organs on plastic chips, which they hope can be connected to represent the human body. This could be used to accurately predict the effectiveness and toxicity of drugs and vaccines and remove the need for animal testing in medical research.
Blood vessels of the African grey parrot
This image shows a 3D reconstruction of an African grey parrot, post euthanasia. The 3D model details the highly intricate system of blood vessels in the head and neck of the bird and was made possible through the use of a new research contrast agent called BriteVu (invented by Scott Echols). This contrast agent allows researchers to study a subject’s vascular system in incredible detail, right down to the capillary level.
#breastcancer Twitter connections
This is a graphical visualisation of data extracted from tweets containing the hashtag #breastcancer. Twitter users are represented by dots, called nodes, and lines connecting the nodes represent the relationships between the Twitter users. Nodes are sized differently according to the number and importance of other nodes they are connected with, and the thickness of each connecting line is determined by the number of times that a particular relationship is expressed within the data. The ‘double yolk’ structure at the top of the image indicates common mentions of two accounts. This area of the graph provides a graphical expression of trending data in Twitter, as it represents one tweet that was retweeted thousands of times.
All animals possess unique variations in their anatomy that help them adapt to their environment. Scott Echols is a member of the Grey Parrot Anatomy Project, which has been established to create technology that allows the world to study the anatomy of any animal. Discoveries made through the project have already been used when working with a large variety of animals, including humans.
Images are taken from computed tomography scans. The intricate network of blood vessels in this pigeon’s neck is just visible at the bottom of the picture. This extensive blood supply just below the skin helps the pigeon control its body temperature through a process known as thermoregulation.
The Placenta Rainbow
The Placenta Rainbow highlights differences in mouse placental development that can result from manipulation of the mother’s immune system. These placentas were investigated at day 12 of the 20-day gestation period – the point at which a mouse’s placenta has gained its characteristic shape but is still developing.
These placentas are from mice with genetically different immune systems, and have been stained for three proteins. Blue represents the nucleus, where DNA is stored and controlled; blood vessels are stained in red; and trophoblasts, the first cells to form in the developing embryo, are stained in green. Additional colours are present due to an expression of two or more of these proteins in the same cell.
Surface of a mouse retina
The retina, located at the back of the eye, contains light-sensitive cells responsible for converting light into electrical nerve signals that the brain can process. As a result of ageing or injury the retina can lose this function, causing vision loss. This image was created by digitally stitching together over 400 images to form one large image, so as to show the entire surface of a mouse retina.
Unravelled DNA in a human lung cell
In order for plants and animals to grow and remain healthy, cells need to have the ability to replicate. During cell division, also known as mitosis, the entire DNA content of the cell is copied, with half going to each new cell. DNA is found in a region of the cell called the nucleus, which acts a bit like the brain. This picture shows the nucleus of one of two new daughter cells. The DNA in this cell has somehow become caught, and is being pulled between the two cells. This has caused the DNA to unfold inside the nucleus, and DNA fibres can be seen running through it. As the new cells have moved apart, the tension distributed by the rope-like DNA has deformed the nucleus’s usually circular envelope.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909–2012) was an Italian neurobiologist and the joint recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF). Rita graduated in medicine in 1936, but due to Mussolini’s 1938 Manifesto of Race, which barred non-Aryan citizens from having academic careers, was forced to build a small laboratory in the family home and work in secret. After the end of World War II she was invited to Washington University in St Louis, USA, by Professor Viktor Hamburger, whose work was her inspiration. It was there that Rita discovered the role of NGF, which has increased the understanding of many conditions, including tumours, developmental malformations and dementia.
Zebrafish eye and neuromasts
This four-day-old zebrafish embryo has been modified using two mechanisms – borrowed from the fascinating worlds of bacteria and yeast – that are widely applied in genetics research. A DNA-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9 was used to insert a gene called Gal4 next to the gene that the researchers wished to study. These Gal4 fish were then bred with special reporter fish to create fish where the gene of interest fluoresces red whenever it is activated.
Winners will be announced on 15th March.