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Snapshots of Life: Reward Seeking, in Technicolor

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Rainbow noodles

Credit: Saleem Nicola, Vincent B. McGinty, James J. Kim, and Sylvie Lardeux

Originally, this vibrant picture was just a set of black lines on a graph, charting the various paths of a laboratory rat as it made its way toward a lever to release a shot of sugar water. But Dr. Saleem Nicola, an NIH-funded researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, wanted to pique the interest of his colleagues, so he decided to have a bit of fun with the image.

First, Dr. Nicola broadened the lines, giving them a noodle-like appearance. He then went on to use other information about the rat journeys to add rainbow hues, and, finally, he replaced the white background with black. The result is an eye-catching image that is among the winners of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2013 BioArt competition.

Snapshots of Life: Mending Broken Hearts

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Green strings over blue ovals and red dots

Caption: Micrograph of laboratory-grown rat heart muscle cells. Fluorescent labeling shows mitochondria (red), cytoskeleton (green), and nuclei (blue).
Credit: Credit: Douglas B. Cowan and James D. McCully, Harvard Medical School, Boston

This may not look like your average Valentine’s Day card, but it’s an image sure to warm the hearts of many doctors and patients. Why? This micrograph, a winner in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2013 BioArt Competition, shows cells that have been specially engineered to repair the damage done by heart attacks—which strike more than 700,000 Americans every year.

Working with rat heart muscle cells grown in a lab dish, NIH-supported bioengineers at Harvard Medical School used transplant techniques to boost the number of tiny powerhouses, called mitochondria, within the cells. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see the heart muscle cells are tagged in green, their nuclei in blue, and their mitochondria in red.

Snapshots of Life: Development on Display

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This image depicts an embryonic Little Skate, Leucoraja erinacea, sitting atop its yolk sac.

Credit: Katherine O’Shaughnessy and Marin J. Cohn, University of Florida, Gainesville

What on earth is this strange-looking critter?  Well, among other things, it’s a scientific super model whose photo shoot landed it among the winners of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2013 BioArt Competition. Researchers use this stingray-like sea creature, called Leucoraja erinacea or Little Skate, as a model organism for studying development.

This image, taken using a stereomicroscope with transmitted light, shows a 10-week-old Little Skate embryo attached to its nutrient-rich yolk sac. Because the skate can develop normally even when removed from its egg case, it provides an accessible system for exploring how genes direct the formation of internal organs.

The diversity found in the natural world can also reveal unexpected insights into human disease. For example, it turns out that the genes controlling development of the Little Skate’s fins are strongly influenced by male sex hormones. And this is the really surprising part: researchers have discovered that the genes activated in the skate fins are the same genes that respond to hormones in human prostate, breast, and skin cancers. So, by studying these genes in this bizarre-looking denizen of the deep, it’s possible to probe the genes that trigger disease in humans.


BioArt, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Martin Cohn, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, University of Florida

BioArt 2013 Exhibit. The public can view an exhibit of the winning art at the NIH Visitor Center. Located in Bethesda, MD, the Center is open from 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. M–F.

NIH support: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Snapshots of Life: Amyloid Glows in Polarized Light

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Amyloidosis as seen under a microscope

Credit: William Lewis, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta

While this may look like one of those bold canvases from the brush of an Abstract Expressionist, it’s actually a close-up of the biology underlying a rare, but relentless, group of conditions known as amyloidosis. This winner of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2013 BioArt contest traces in exquisite detail the damage that amyloid, which is the abnormal accumulation of specific extracellular proteins, can inflict on the heart.

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