The folks at Backyard Brains, a DIY-neurobiology project, made these pigment-producing cells in a dead squid pulse to the base beats of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain.” Go watch that thing right now.
Done? Wowed? Prepare to be more wowed: They did it by exploiting the fact that electrical current is key to both the actions of cells and the playing of mp3s. These pigmented cells, called chromatophores, are surrounded by muscle cells, and it’s by flexing these muscles that the squid reveals its colorful spots. By hooked up the nerve that sends the flexing orders to the wire of a set of earbuds, they got these amazing results.
Microscopy often yields striking snapshots, but these colorful compositions have a less-than-glamorous subject: fruit fly intestines.
The insides of these humble critters may help researchers understand the human digestive system. Each of us has something like 500 million intestinal nerve cells, yet little is known about what they’re up to. According to a recent Wellcome Trust press release, fruit fly feces (seen in image 3 above) have helped researchers at the University of Cambridge understand how the gut’s nerve cells affect metabolism.
“We reasoned that what comes out of the gut may be able to tell us about what is going on inside,” says Irene Miguel-Aliaga, who headed the study. “So, we devised a method to extract information about several metabolic features from the flies’ fecal deposits–which are actually rather pretty and don’t smell bad. Then we turned specific neurons on and off and examined what came out.”
Examining fruit fly poo allowed the scientists to assign different functions to different intestinal neurons. Some regulate appetite, for example, while others adjust intestinal water balance during reproduction.