Life is beautiful on all scales, from large to small. That brilliance sometimes hides under the literal scales.
An expert peek under the scales of the developing hand of the embryonic Madagascar giant day star (Phelsuma the great) first place in the 2022 Nikon Small World photomicrography competition. The winning image, stitched together from hundreds of images taken over two days with a confocal microscope, was created by University of Geneva researchers Grigori Timin and Michel Milinkovitch. A comparative study of the genetics and physics of embryonic development.
The hand is artificially colored to show nerves in cyan and collagen-containing structures in oranges and yellows. Collagen is the building blocks of life, says Milinkovitch. Knowing where collagen is can help researchers better understand how bodies and tissues develop.
Parts of the bones that have begun to calcify shine in the image, Timin says. Stretching tendons and ligaments like golden branches. Blood cells form clusters or rows within the new blood vessels at the tips of the toes.
The image highlights the beauty of all sizes, Milinkovitch says. Snapshot “As beautiful as the hand is, you see this beautiful example of fingers.” Then zoom in, you see spongy bones. And zoom in, you see the nerves. And you zoom, and you see the fibers as ‘from the nerves’. Then zoom in and you see the blood cells.
Migale’s photo was one of 92 incredible photos recognized in this year’s competition. The winners of the 48th annual contest were announced on October 12. Here are some of our favorites.
From a distance this photo looks like a cluster. But each disc is a scattered mass of cells within the breast tissue.
Cancer immunologist Caleb Dawson of the Walter and Eliza Hall Medical Research Institute in Parkville, Australia, took thousands of images using a confocal microscope to look at the tiny, muscle-shaped cells that surround the milky-producing spheres. He used dyes and antibodies to mark the yellow and magenta cells in this second-place-winning image.
The cells respond to the hormone oxytocin, Dawson says. Oxytocin is released in the breast and helps express milk from the spheres called alveoli. Such images of lactating breast tissue can help researchers figure out how immune cells can protect breast tissue and feed healthy babies.
the lamp snuffed
Ole Bielfeldt had to be ready to take the last breath of the extinguished candle.
Wax wax is made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms, which are mostly burned into carbon dioxide in a fire. But not all of those hydrocarbons burn, but on the surface of the soot accumulated near the candle. “When the flame goes out, the thread has left enough burning heat to dissolve the wax molecules for a while, but not enough to burn the coal,” says Bielfeldt, a photographer in Cologne, Germany. “So you smoke until it cools down.”
Using a fast shutter speed and led by a bright light, Bielfeldt managed to capture those unburnt particles of carbon as they left, earning sixth place.
Iridescent bitumen mold
Hidden in the leaves and decaying logs in the damp woods are tiny works of art like these Lamproderma he imagines slime.
On a sunny day the next day in October, photographer Alison Pollack of San Anselmo, Calif., saw a sparkling leaf when digging through a pile of leaves. When he took the leaf home and looked through the microscope, he was struck by the curled heads and the iridescence of the slime. About 40 hours of work and 147 combined images later, Pollack had taken a remarkable snapshot that he wanted to anthropomorphize as a close union: a parent and child, two lovers, a brother and sister. The photo earned fifth place in the competition.
Bituminous molds have especially light heads, which emit spores to mold into the environment. This match may have dried up too quickly, stalling progress and leaving wrinkled heads, Pollacke says. But it is well, “that to me the texture is splendid.”
A deadly predator
Everyone is afraid of being preyed upon by tigers, especially this poor fly.
Murat Öztürk of Ankara, Turkey, nabbed 10th place in this year’s competition for a stunning — and unnerving — snapshot of a tiger beetle using its mandibles to crush a fly with its eyes.
Tiger race (Cicindelinae) rush after the prey so quickly that the insects go temporarily blind. The magpies were photographed multiple times stopping to orient themselves to look like flies, finally grabbing their food. Due to the strong and sharp bites of the beetles, “the chance of survival of creatures caught by this insect is very low,” says Öztürk.
On the Opal Reef off the coast of Australia, some cabbage corals (Pocillopora verrucosa) Polyps appear green. But the same organism under the microscope in the lab.
To reveal the individual cells of the octopus, marine scientist Brett Lewis of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, stitched together more than 60 images taken over 36 hours in Australia. Coral naturally fluoresces with a confluence of blues, purples, and dark colors when exposed to different wavelengths of light. The algae living inside the octopus appear orange or pink, while the coral fibers glow blue. Image won 12th place in the competition.
One surprising thing about the photo, Lewis says, is that in some places, the algae cells shine through the blue coating. That which is transparent to the coral; the algae give the color to the corals.
Peeks at the internal structures of corals can help scientists understand their biology, Lewis says. His work, for example, aims to show how young octopuses build strong foundations when they stick to the surface – an important step in building or restoring coral reefs.
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