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SciShots: Exploring cellular variability

Scientists are studying the wide range of “normal” within human cells


1 min read

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Cell Science want to know what a normal cell looks like. It might sound like a simple research question, but after analyzing images of hundreds of thousands of human stem cells with different tags to light up different parts of the cell, the scientists are coming to understand just what a huge range of normal exists among even the same kind of human cell growing in a dish. In the image above, a protein known as H2B is genetically engineered to light up under the microscope. H2B is part of a structure that organizes DNA inside the cell’s nucleus; this image thus represents the overall shape of human DNA and its associated proteins in each cell. The image was processed to find the clean edges of the structures and then further modified using an in-house graphics tool known as AGAVE, which creates realistic-looking light sources. Here, software engineer Dan Toloudis used the tool to “shine” green and red light on the DNA structures. Rachel Tompa, Ph.D.

Microscopic viewpoints, computer-generated models, intricate tracings and more — see a new side of science with SciShots

About the author: Rachel Tompa

Rachel Tompa is a science and health writer and editor. A former molecular biologist, she’s been telling science stories since 2007 and has covered the gamut of science topics, including the microbiome, the human brain, pregnancy, evolution, science policy and infectious disease. During her tenure as Senior Editor at the Allen Institute, Rachel wrote stories and created podcast episodes covering all the Institute’s scientific divisions.

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