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Tiny Treasures: Award-Winning Microscopic Pics

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Photo Credits: Csaba Pintér, Keszthely, Hungary

Your forgotten fridge remnants never looked so beautiful. These black bread mold (Rhizopus stolonifer) sporangia were lying in a Petri dish and imaged using stereo microscopy. The photo took an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Photo Credits: Michael Bridge, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

This slice of retina came from a three-week-old mouse. The blood vessels' tree-like branching structures are organized in two layers. The upper layer appears red to green in color while the underlying layer appears cyan to purple in color. Image Z-stacks were acquired using confocal microscopy and received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Photo Credits: Pierre Mahou and Emmanuel Beaurepaire, Laboratory for Optics and Biosciences, Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France, and Karine Loulier, Institut de la Vision, Paris, France

Individual neurons in the mouse brain show up differently colored in this "Brainbow"-labeled sample of a cerebral cortex. Brainbow is the process of labeling neurons with fluorescent protein to distinguish them and follow their paths through brain tissue.

The neurons shown here are pyramidal neurons, so called because of their triangle-shaped cell bodies. The image was taken with multiphoton microscopy with wavelength mixing, and it received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Photo Credits: Peter McLean, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

These green tendrils are the nerves in part of the fruit fly Drosophilamelanogaster's stomach. The fly has been genetically engineered to express fluorescent proteins. This image was captured with confocal microscopy and received an Honorable Mention at the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Photo Credits: Sahar Khodaverdi, University of Tabriz, Tabriz, East Azerbaijan, Iran

This year's winners of the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition were announced on December 17, 2012. BioScapes is an international photo compteition that honors the world's most extraordinary microscope images of life science subjects.

This image, of a Delphinium flower seed, was acquired from multiple Z-stacked images using epi-fluorescence. It took ninth place in the competition.

Photo Credits: Christine Farrar, Jo-Ann Leong, Pam Omidyar and Ruth Gates, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Kaneohe, Hawaii, USA

Here, shells molted by plankton display autofluorescence—no blacklight here; this is all natural. The plankton molts were floating in seawater in a dish and imaged by laser scanning confocal microscopy.

This image received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Photo Credits: Igor Siwanowicz, HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus, Ashburn,Virginia, USA

This colorful collage is actually a closeup of the common East-coast US fern, Polypodium virginianum. This image was created using a laser scanning confocal microscope by Igor Siwanowicz of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It took third prize in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition.

Siwanowicz's earlier macro photography included startling images of insects fighting each other. Siwanowicz is a Polish photographer and research specialist Howard Hughes Medical Institute who has bred his own insects and photographed them extensively. "My [research] project involves describing the neural circuits responsible for generating pray capture behavior in dragonflies, but I find it irresistible to study other morphological adaptations that make those insects such formidable predators," he explains.

This recent image uses a much more cooperative subject. It shows a cluster of spore-filled sporangia (the balled structures, which sit on the underside of ferns' fronds) interspersed with specialized protective hairs called paraphyses. Siwanowicz says his prize-winning photograph was his first ever of a plant specimen:

"Not such a long time ago I decided that my specialization was way too narrow and by neglecting a whole kingdom of life I'm losing the opportunity to take interesting, if more abstract, images. I took a walk around the grounds of my institute and brought back several leaves of local ferns; I was recalling vaguely that spore clusters have an interesting morphology, but didn't quite expect what I've seen under the microscope. All those swollen bottle-like structures looked weirdly out of place there. To be perfectly honest, I had to educate myself to fully comprehend what was I seeing in the image I took. I vaguely remembered images of sporangia from my high school botany classes, but the bulbous red structures dominating the image puzzled me. After doing some research (thanks, Google!) I came to the conclusion that the structures are in fact specialized hairs called paraphyses. P. virginianym is an evergreen species; the hairs probably protect the spores from the elements."

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