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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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Crystallized vitamin C
Anyone who has played Oregon Trail can attest to the many trailblazers who suddenly perished from scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. Symptoms of advanced scurvy include pus-filled wounds, teeth loss, spongy gums, and bleeding mucous membranes. Nasty stuff. So what happens in patients with scurvy? Without vitamin C, the body has trouble making stabilized collagen, a protein found in the connective tissues of mammals. Loose tissue prevents wound healing and disrupts tissue integrity, leading to infection if left untreated. While scurvy is less prevalent today, it remains a very real threat to health wherever malnutrition exists, especially in impoverished and underdeveloped countries.
Image by Raul Gonzalez.

Crystallized vitamin C

Anyone who has played Oregon Trail can attest to the many trailblazers who suddenly perished from scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. Symptoms of advanced scurvy include pus-filled wounds, teeth loss, spongy gums, and bleeding mucous membranes. Nasty stuff. So what happens in patients with scurvy? Without vitamin C, the body has trouble making stabilized collagen, a protein found in the connective tissues of mammals. Loose tissue prevents wound healing and disrupts tissue integrity, leading to infection if left untreated. While scurvy is less prevalent today, it remains a very real threat to health wherever malnutrition exists, especially in impoverished and underdeveloped countries.

Image by Raul Gonzalez.

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Vorticella sp.
Vorticella are microscopic inverted bell-shaped cells that attach to surfaces with a long stalk, swaying precariously in their environment. If a Vorticella is touched, it contracts at more than 100 times its length per second thanks to its myoneme, a tightly coiled fiber inside the Vorticella stalk. This “duck and cover” mechanism allows Vorticella to evade potential predators, only peeking out and uncoiling to check for safety after several seconds.
Image by Frank Fox.

Vorticella sp.

Vorticella are microscopic inverted bell-shaped cells that attach to surfaces with a long stalk, swaying precariously in their environment. If a Vorticella is touched, it contracts at more than 100 times its length per second thanks to its myoneme, a tightly coiled fiber inside the Vorticella stalk. This “duck and cover” mechanism allows Vorticella to evade potential predators, only peeking out and uncoiling to check for safety after several seconds.

Image by Frank Fox.

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Bands of cellulose in xylem cells of Arabidopsis thaliana
Xylem cells are like drinking straws for plants. Located deep within a plant’s stem, xylem draws water up from the earth and transports it to the rest of the plant. But just like how drinking straws can be bent and clogged, so too can xylem cells. Plants circumvent this problem by scaffolding xylem with thick deposits of cellulose, a tough fibrous material. This genetically engineered plant shows bands of cellulose in xylem cells, underscoring how the crisscross pattern of cellulose supports xylem integrity and prevents its collapse.
Dr. Fernan Federici, David Benjamin, and Jim Haseloff, University of Cambridge.

Bands of cellulose in xylem cells of Arabidopsis thaliana

Xylem cells are like drinking straws for plants. Located deep within a plant’s stem, xylem draws water up from the earth and transports it to the rest of the plant. But just like how drinking straws can be bent and clogged, so too can xylem cells. Plants circumvent this problem by scaffolding xylem with thick deposits of cellulose, a tough fibrous material. This genetically engineered plant shows bands of cellulose in xylem cells, underscoring how the crisscross pattern of cellulose supports xylem integrity and prevents its collapse.

Dr. Fernan Federici, David Benjamin, and Jim Haseloff, University of Cambridge.

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Fluorescently glowing rat hearts
While our hearts may seem fragile at times, they are more resilient than you think. When the going gets tough, hearts protect themselves from damage through a phenomenon known as ischemic preconditioning. Short, subsequent episodes of reduced blood flow to the heart cause the heart to safeguard itself from future harm. Think like fire drills: The more you practice them, the faster and more efficiently you can get out of harms way. Ischemic preconditioning is so effective that dog hearts going through these “fire drills” had a 75% reduction in tissue damage compared to unprepared hearts. Understanding how ischemic preconditioning occurs will help scientists develop therapies for at-risk patients.
Image by Dr. Miguel Mano, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Chile.

Fluorescently glowing rat hearts

While our hearts may seem fragile at times, they are more resilient than you think. When the going gets tough, hearts protect themselves from damage through a phenomenon known as ischemic preconditioning. Short, subsequent episodes of reduced blood flow to the heart cause the heart to safeguard itself from future harm. Think like fire drills: The more you practice them, the faster and more efficiently you can get out of harms way. Ischemic preconditioning is so effective that dog hearts going through these “fire drills” had a 75% reduction in tissue damage compared to unprepared hearts. Understanding how ischemic preconditioning occurs will help scientists develop therapies for at-risk patients.

Image by Dr. Miguel Mano, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Chile.

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Brain cancer stem cells from a brain tumor
Normal stem cells are characterized by their ability to divide indefinitely and generate all of the specialized cell types that make up their host tissue. Cancer stem cells are remarkably similar but possess a key difference: they generate cells that give rise to tumors. Conventional chemotherapy may fail to eliminate cancer stem cells from a tumor, so while the tumor initially shrinks in size, it could eventually grow back and cause an aggressive relapse. Understanding the molecules that distinguish cancer stem cells from other cells will arm researchers with the knowledge to generate targeted therapies against cancer stem cells.
Image by Dr. Biplab Dasgupta, Jane Anderson, Shabnam Pooya, Mariko DeWire, and Lili Miles, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Brain cancer stem cells from a brain tumor

Normal stem cells are characterized by their ability to divide indefinitely and generate all of the specialized cell types that make up their host tissue. Cancer stem cells are remarkably similar but possess a key difference: they generate cells that give rise to tumors. Conventional chemotherapy may fail to eliminate cancer stem cells from a tumor, so while the tumor initially shrinks in size, it could eventually grow back and cause an aggressive relapse. Understanding the molecules that distinguish cancer stem cells from other cells will arm researchers with the knowledge to generate targeted therapies against cancer stem cells.

Image by Dr. Biplab Dasgupta, Jane Anderson, Shabnam Pooya, Mariko DeWire, and Lili Miles, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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