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Human cortical neural stem cells
Cortical neurons are located in the cerebral cortex of the brain, a region responsible for memory, thought, language, and consciousness. Neural stem cells are “immature” cells committed to become neurons and helper cells of the brain. Neurons are the liaison between our brain and the world. When we eat a lemon, neurons connected to our taste buds tell the brain that it’s sour. Messages from the brain can also be sent elsewhere, as when neurons command muscles to contract while lifting a heavy object.
Image by Kimmy Lorrain, BrainCells, Inc.

Human cortical neural stem cells

Cortical neurons are located in the cerebral cortex of the brain, a region responsible for memory, thought, language, and consciousness. Neural stem cells are “immature” cells committed to become neurons and helper cells of the brain. Neurons are the liaison between our brain and the world. When we eat a lemon, neurons connected to our taste buds tell the brain that it’s sour. Messages from the brain can also be sent elsewhere, as when neurons command muscles to contract while lifting a heavy object.

Image by Kimmy Lorrain, BrainCells, Inc.

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HeLa cells, an immortalized cell line
Frequently, scientists try to understand how the cells in our body behave by culturing them in a dish. But normal cells eventually stop dividing and die, so studying cells that can grow “forever” has become an invaluable tool in scientific research. These are HeLa cells, the first immortalized cell line ever established by scientists. HeLa cells are cervical cancer cells that were surgically removed in the 1940s from an African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks (whose story was recently documented by Rebecca Skloot in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). Since the establishment of HeLa, thousands of immortalized cell types have been developed, but HeLa cells remain the most commonly used one.
Image by Asae Igarashi, Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co. Ltd., Japan.

HeLa cells, an immortalized cell line

Frequently, scientists try to understand how the cells in our body behave by culturing them in a dish. But normal cells eventually stop dividing and die, so studying cells that can grow “forever” has become an invaluable tool in scientific research. These are HeLa cells, the first immortalized cell line ever established by scientists. HeLa cells are cervical cancer cells that were surgically removed in the 1940s from an African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks (whose story was recently documented by Rebecca Skloot in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). Since the establishment of HeLa, thousands of immortalized cell types have been developed, but HeLa cells remain the most commonly used one.

Image by Asae Igarashi, Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co. Ltd., Japan.

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Fruit fly larval brain
With over 100 billion neurons, humans are capable of impossibly intricate behaviors. Fruit flies, on the other hand, have 100,000 neurons—a mere 0.0001% of what we possess. Robot makers turn to fruit flies to understand how a system with “low computational power” can execute sophisticated “commands,” such as honing in on a food source in a chaotic environment. Using their antennae, fruit flies detect odors arising from food, but the odor plume is chaotically dispersed by wind. How do flies know precisely where to land? Researchers at the University of Washington demonstrated that after sensing an odor, fruit flies visually search for round, high-contrast objects as potential odor sources. If it’s inedible, flies move on to the next object. Understanding how fruit flies use these simple cues could aid in designing programs for controlling robots of the future.
Image by Christian Klämbt, University of Muenster, Germany.

Fruit fly larval brain

With over 100 billion neurons, humans are capable of impossibly intricate behaviors. Fruit flies, on the other hand, have 100,000 neurons—a mere 0.0001% of what we possess. Robot makers turn to fruit flies to understand how a system with “low computational power” can execute sophisticated “commands,” such as honing in on a food source in a chaotic environment. Using their antennae, fruit flies detect odors arising from food, but the odor plume is chaotically dispersed by wind. How do flies know precisely where to land? Researchers at the University of Washington demonstrated that after sensing an odor, fruit flies visually search for round, high-contrast objects as potential odor sources. If it’s inedible, flies move on to the next object. Understanding how fruit flies use these simple cues could aid in designing programs for controlling robots of the future.

Image by Christian Klämbt, University of Muenster, Germany.

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Trabecular meshwork of a pig’s eye
The trabecular meshwork of the eye acts as a filter located behind the cornea. Behind the cornea is fluid to protect the eye from dust, wind, and other disturbances. We need this fluid for proper eye function, and it needs to be properly drained to prevent unwanted build-up. The trabecular meshwork makes this possible. When it cannot function properly, a disease called glaucoma results. The vision loss associated with glaucoma occurs when the fluid pressure in the cornea causes damage to the optic nerve, the nerve responsible for sending “sight” messages to the brain.
Image by Carmen Laethem, Aerie Pharmaceuticals, USA.

Trabecular meshwork of a pig’s eye

The trabecular meshwork of the eye acts as a filter located behind the cornea. Behind the cornea is fluid to protect the eye from dust, wind, and other disturbances. We need this fluid for proper eye function, and it needs to be properly drained to prevent unwanted build-up. The trabecular meshwork makes this possible. When it cannot function properly, a disease called glaucoma results. The vision loss associated with glaucoma occurs when the fluid pressure in the cornea causes damage to the optic nerve, the nerve responsible for sending “sight” messages to the brain.

Image by Carmen Laethem, Aerie Pharmaceuticals, USA.

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Crystallized sulfur
Known to be behind the characteristic odor of rotting eggs, sulfur is essential for all living cells. Cells make proteins that form strong chemical bonds called disulfide bridges between two adjacent sulfur atoms. These bridges give strength to our hair, outer skin, and nails. Eggs are loaded with sulfur because disulfide bridges are needed to form feathers, which explains why eggs smell on rotting. Because sulfur is easy to smell, natural gas lines—which are normally odorless—have sulfur additives to help people identify and smell a gas leak when it occurs.
Image by Dr. Edward Gafford.

Crystallized sulfur

Known to be behind the characteristic odor of rotting eggs, sulfur is essential for all living cells. Cells make proteins that form strong chemical bonds called disulfide bridges between two adjacent sulfur atoms. These bridges give strength to our hair, outer skin, and nails. Eggs are loaded with sulfur because disulfide bridges are needed to form feathers, which explains why eggs smell on rotting. Because sulfur is easy to smell, natural gas lines—which are normally odorless—have sulfur additives to help people identify and smell a gas leak when it occurs.

Image by Dr. Edward Gafford.

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Inner ear of a mouse
One of the most common genetic defects in human deafness is the disappearance of an important family of proteins: the claudins. Claudins are the most critical component of tight junctions (shown here in blue), the place where two adjacent cells meet. Imagine a tight circle of people linking arms to protect what’s inside; tight junctions are what protect a tissue from unwanted molecules or cells trying to pass through. When mice cannot make claudin, the tight junctions in the cochlea (the spiral-shaped portion of the inner ear) are disrupted, robbing them of their hearing sensitivity.
Image by Dr. Alexander Gow and Cherie Southwood, Wayne State University.

Inner ear of a mouse

One of the most common genetic defects in human deafness is the disappearance of an important family of proteins: the claudins. Claudins are the most critical component of tight junctions (shown here in blue), the place where two adjacent cells meet. Imagine a tight circle of people linking arms to protect what’s inside; tight junctions are what protect a tissue from unwanted molecules or cells trying to pass through. When mice cannot make claudin, the tight junctions in the cochlea (the spiral-shaped portion of the inner ear) are disrupted, robbing them of their hearing sensitivity.

Image by Dr. Alexander Gow and Cherie Southwood, Wayne State University.

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