Did you know that the Wellcome Trust, a London-based charity dedicated to supporting the “brightest minds” in science, the humanities and social sciences, runs an annual competition called the Wellcome Image Awards? No? That’s alright, neither did I.
The Wellcome Image Awards showcases the best in science imaging and techniques. With the winners due to be announced within the next few hours, let’s take a look at some of finalists.
Credit: David Linstead. Polarised light micrograph of a cross-section through part of a cat’s tongue. The round bumps sticking out from the surface (papillae) feel a bit like sandpaper when a cat licks you. This rough texture helps a cat to pick up and hold food, as well as acting like a comb to remove dirt and loose hair during grooming. Cats groom themselves not only to keep clean, but also to regulate body temperature and to stay calm. This sample is from a vintage slide prepared in the Victorian era. Small blood vessels (capillaries) were injected with black dye (iron or silver preparation) to make them visible. This was a newly developed technique at that time. The width of the image is 3 mm.
Credit: Daniel Kariko. Scanning electron microscope composite image of the head of a boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis) found on the front porch of a suburban house. The boll weevil is a beetle that feeds on and lays its eggs in the cotton plant. These agricultural pests have long curved snouts (often half as long as their bodies) and can destroy entire cotton crops. They develop from egg to adult in approximately 20 days and grow on average to 6–8 mm in length. This is one image in a series of work looking at common household pests found inside homes on the outskirts of town. These images of our often-overlooked housemates are in the style of traditional portraits. The width of the image is 4.1 mm.
Credit: Albert Cardona. Reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting, this image shows part of the central nervous system in a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Transmission electron micrographs were used to create a digital colour-coded map of the area. An organism’s nervous system controls everything it does, from breathing and moving to thinking and feeling. Instructions to perform these tasks are carried by cells called neurones. A neurone able to sense vibrations (yellow) is surrounded here by lots of other neurones, each depicted as a single line. Messages enter (blue circles) and exit (red circles) neurones at points of contact called synapses. Other features of interest (orange circles), such as mitochondria, are also marked. The width of the image is approximately 15 micrometres (0.015 mm).
Credit: Michael Hausser, Sarah Rieubland and Arnd Roth. Scanning electron micrograph of tree-like branches (dendritic tree) spreading out from a particular type of nerve cell (Purkinje cell, or neurone) found in the brain. The finger-like projections in this elaborate network act like tiny sensors, picking up information and passing on messages to help control and coordinate muscle movement. This particular neurone is from the cerebellar cortex in a rat brain. To allow us to see the dendritic tree, this Purkinje cell was filled with a visual marker before being imaged by focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy, which allows neurones and neural circuits to be reconstructed in high resolution. The width of the image is 110 micrometres (0.11 mm).
Credit: Nele Dieckmann and Nicola Lawrence. Super-resolution micrograph of a natural killer (NK) cell (left) examining a second cell (the less bright, slightly rounder cell on the right) for signs of disease. NK cells are part of the immune system and can recognise and destroy some infected or cancerous cells. The NK cell has docked onto the second cell and will release toxic chemicals (red) that will cause it to self-destruct. These chemicals are stored in specialised compartments (cytotoxic granules) inside the NK cell, so NK cells are always pre-armed and ready to kill. This image was created using 3D structured illumination microscopy, one type of super-resolution microscopy. Each cell is approximately 20 micrometres (0.02 mm) in diameter.
Credit: Flavio Dell’Acquia. Bundles of nerve fibres inside a healthy adult living human brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to virtually slice the brain into left and right halves; the front of the head faces the left side of the image. Information on this network of connections was collected by a type of MRI (diffusion imaging) that tracks the movement of water molecules. This was then used to digitally reconstruct these connections in the brain in the style of famous French neurologist Joseph Jules Dejerine’s 19th-century anatomical drawings. Distant regions of the brain communicate with each other through this network of fibres, which are being mapped to create tools for teaching and research. This brain measures approximately 18 cm from front to back.