If you follow my blog, you know that I like to feature spectacular images that scientists have created during the course of their research. These images are rarely viewed outside the lab, but some are so worthy of artistic merit and brimming with educational value that they deserve a wider audience. That’s one reason why the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) launched its BioArt contest. Of the 12 winners in 2013, I’m proud to report that 11 received support from NIH. In fact, I’m so proud that I plan to showcase their work in an occasional series entitled “Snapshots of Life.” Continue reading to see the first installment—enjoy!
This microscopic cross-section shows a freshwater snail infected with the parasitic flatworm that causes schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia or snail fever. The swirls of orange, blue, and green around the edges of this photo are snail muscle. In the darker area near the center, you may be able to make out the larval form of the worm (OK, some imagination may be required). The colors indicate different tissue depths.
After the snail releases the parasites into streams, lakes, ditches, or rice paddies, they can penetrate the skin of people who are wading, swimming, bathing, or washing laundry in the water. Once inside the human body, the parasites mature, and the adult worms, known as schistosomes, live in the blood vessels of the urinary tract or intestine, where they release eggs that trigger massive immune reactions that damage these and other organs.
Schistosomes possess stem cells that may play a role in their long lifespan; people can harbor these worms for as long as 30 years after leaving a region where the disease is endemic. NIH-funded research aimed at understanding the role these stem cells play throughout the parasite’s life cycle may ultimately provide new ways to control this global health threat.
BioArt, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Phil Newmark Laboratory, School of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Schistosomiasis (NIH MedlinePlus)
NIH Support: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases