17 July 2010

Cell biology 101 - an update on my work

Well, this week has been rather unmotivated. I don't really feel that I have done a lot. But the thing about my work is that all I need to do is spend a couple of hours on the electron microscope and already I have a brand new, never been seen before result. And I at least think that my work and results are very interesting and even rather exciting so I would like to share such things. Which is a little pointless as many people know nothing of cells and their features. So today I am going to explain for you, very briefly, what this all means, so that I can show you some of my beautiful micrographs (aka photos taken with the microscope - see you are learning already!) If you do not need to be given an incredibly simple tutorial of a cell, why not just look at all my pretty pictures?

So all living things are made of cells, and some living things are actually just a single cell. We are looking at animals here so we will ignore plant cells. A cell is generally very small, but a nice large example is an egg. An egg is always a single cell. A cell has a membrane that will let some substances through but not others. So think of an egg shell. It has to let oxygen in or the chick will suffocate. Inside the egg is the white and the yolk. The white is like the cytoplasm and the yolk is like the nucleus. Now keep in mind that this is metaphor and the yolk is not actually a nucleus. As a matter of fact it is the food for the chick, primarily protein and fat. The nucleus is actually really really tiny.

So here are some cells. They are not eggs, the blue ones are oocytes. That is, an egg cell. The pink ones are what I study, the glue gland. It makes the glue that sticks the barnacle to things like rocks and ships.

So now we have the image in mind of a cell. So in a cell the cytoplasm (which remember is like egg white) is full of structures like mitochondria that makes energy for the cell, endoplasmic reticulum that makes and modifies proteins and golgi that further modify proteins. The nucleus is full of DNA, which sometimes is all streched out and invisible and other times is clumped together and can be seen as dark patches. So now I think that it is enough to be going on with. Now for some of the pictures that I spend my days making.

Here is some cytoplasm near the edge of one of my gland cells. The long wiggly bits are the cell membrane making huge long folds that reach right into the cell. It's weird, and really hard to find mention of such things in other studies, and being far from an expert I have no idea if this sort of thing is normal.

Here is some cytoplasm of a different cell. I have so far cut up two different animals and they look completely different, which doesn't help me to understand things. On the left side of this image is the nucleus, on the right the cytoplasm, full of great big empty spaces - another anomaly. As an anatomy student told me while looking over my shoulder, this is the weirdest looking cytoplasm. But what is cool about this picture is the nuclear membrane. Below is a close up.

In this close up of the nuclear membrane you will see that there are two lines (it is a double membrane) that are sort of broken up. And in the left of the image there are small circles. Now this is really cool. The breaks in the membrane are the nucleopores, and the circles are also nucleopores, seen in a different plane. You have to imagine all of this in 3D, and the cell and nucleus are not circles but spheres. So when you cut through it you might cut across the membrane and see the pores as breaks, or you might just skim the surface. Here you have a bit of both. And perhaps next time I should add arrows to the pictures. I hope you can all see the beautiful nucleopores.

Now this one is also a really great picture. This is a junction between two cells. In the bottom right corner is a nucleus, and to the left of the picture is empty space. The two black lines in the top half of the picture are the membranes of the two cells. And where you see fine lines in a ladder between the two, that is a desmosome. And the next ones are just interesting looking images. Around the edges are my gland cells. The rest is mostly unknown.

And to finish, here you can see what too many hours on the microscope results in: faces. This one is either scared or surprised. And if you want to know, it is actually a weird looking mitochondria, which looks to have enclosed some cytoplasm.

Sometimes we see many things in our sections. Often faces. Sometimes other things. Ghosts, elephants, poodles. You get the picture. Usually it is something obvious that everything can see, that is best. Otherwise you are just seeing things.

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