Planet Earth

The Human Body Under the Microscope

A visual voyage through the cells, organs, microbes and molecules that make up our bodies.

By Colin SalterFeb 11, 2015 12:00 PM

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Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Take a look at your body like never before — from the intricate geometry of your hormones to the tiny architecture of the microbes that infect you — in this selection of images from the new book Science is Beautiful

Here, a colored scanning electron micrograph of empty fat cells. Fat cells, or adipocytes, are amongst the largest cells in the human body. They form a thick insulating layer under the skin which serves to cushion us as well as to store energy.

In this image the normal lipid (fat) deposits of the cells have been removed, revealing the honeycomb structure of the cell membranes.

When we put on weight, the cells swell with additional fat, and eventually extra cells are added too.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Penicillium fungus

Like a tray of flowers in a florist’s shop, this colored scanning electron micrograph displays stalks of the fungus Penicillium.

Specialized threads (hyphae, pink), called conidiophores, end in bunches of spores (conidia, yellow), the fungal reproductive units.

The antibiotic penicillin is obtained from certain types of Penicillium fungi. It was discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Its effectiveness was proved in the treatment of infected wounds in World War II, and won him a Nobel Prize in 1945.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Brain cells in culture

This fluorescence light micrograph shows two important support cells (glial cells) of the human brain.

The green splash is a microglial cell, which responds to immune reactions in the central nervous system. Microglial cells recognize areas of damage and inflammation and swallow cellular debris.

The larger orange shape is an oligodendrocyte. The ragged extensions of an oligodendrocyte can supply many neurons (nerve cells) with myelin, an insulating material which allows each neuron’s communicating axon to transmit electrical impulses efficiently.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Liver cell

This colored scanning electron micrograph shows several specialized elements within a liver cell (hepatocyte).

The blue lines are the Golgi apparatus, which prepares protein involved in secretion. Large pale yellow spots are fat droplets, smaller ones waste-digesting lysosomes.

The green spots are mitochondria, which generate energy; the brown matter is energy-storing glycogen.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Insulin crystals

This polarized light micrograph shows the hexagonal crystals of the hormone insulin.

Insulin is produced in the pancreas, and its function is to regulate blood sugar levels. Insufficient production of insulin leads to an accumulation of glucose in the blood, and can cause Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can occur when there is plenty of insulin, but the body’s cells do not respond properly to it.

A third type, gestational diabetes, occurs in pregnant women who produce high levels of blood glucose.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Influenza A H1N1 virus particles

Influenza A viruses can infect humans, pigs, birds and horses. The H1N1 strain caused the swine flu outbreak of 2009.

Seen in the center of each virus in this colored transmission electron micrograph is its genetic fingerprint (pink), surrounded by a protective protein shell (yellow).

The enclosing fatty envelope (green) contains two types of protein, haemagglutinin and neuraminidase (the ‘H’ and ‘N’ in the strain’s codename), the levels of which determine the strain of virus.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Bacteriophage

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. The one seen in this colored transmission electron micrograph, a T4 bacteriophage, has just injected its viral DNA into an E. coli bacterium.

It is anchored to the surface of the cell by spidery tail fibers. The tail contracts to allow a syringe-like tube below its base to puncture the cell membrane, emptying the DNA contents of the head into the bacterium.

New T4 phages then grow, kill and depart from the host cell within 30 minutes.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

Blood clot

In this colored scanning electron micrograph, red blood cells have been trapped by a web of thin yellow-white strands of fibrin.

Fibrin is an insoluble protein produced by platelets (fragments of white blood cells) from a soluble protein called fibrinogen normally present in blood.

Blood clots may occur on the surface of skin in case of injuries or inside blood vessels. These internal clots, known as thrombi, may be caused by having too many platelets. They can lead to heart attacks.

Photo Credits: Science is Beautiful

All text and images reprinted with permission from Science is Beautiful © 2014 by Batsford, an imprint of Pavilion Books Company Limited.

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