Every year, Nikon asks photographers and scientists to enter their most magnificent microscopic photos into the Small World photomicography competition, and every year, they dazzle. Here are three of the coolest photos from among this year’s winners.
Jennifer Peters and Michael Taylor, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital/Nikon Small World
First Place: This winning photo depicts the blood-brain barrier, the seal between capillaries and the brain, of a live zebrafish embryo. To produce the image, researchers genetically engineered components of the barrier to fluoresce under a confocal microscope, took a series of photos at 20x magnification, then combined the images to create this one. This is believed to be the first time the developing blood-brain barrier of a live animal has been captured on film.
As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, the cells of your retina start sending frantic messages to your brain. “It’s sunny today! That toast looks done!” One set of cells in particular, the high-resolution retinal cells, are constantly working to give your brain the most detailed, up-to-date picture of your surroundings. But in a mouse’s eye, researchers have recently discovered, the high-resolution cells seem to be on vacation.
That is, until a predator flies by.
To get a sense of how mice use their high-resolution cells, the researchers had first strapped a camera to a rat’s head and let it run around an enclosure. Then they projected this video of what a rodent sees in its daily life onto mouse retinas, while monitoring the cells’ electrical responses. They were surprised to find that while many of the retinal cells reacted to the images, the high-resolution ones remained unresponsive.