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SciShots: Cellular scaffolding

Computer animation techniques light up cells’ inner workings

February 4, 2022

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Like our bodies themselves, cells have a skeletal system. Known as the cytoskeleton, this network of support structures gives cells many of their physical attributes — it lets them hold their shape, move, grow and divide. Shown here, one of the key components of the cytoskeleton, microtubules. These dynamic, thin filaments are formed from many spiraling repeats of two different proteins. Microtubules are one of several cellular structures under study at the Allen Institute for Cell Science. Here, human stem cells derived from a donor’s skin cells have been gene edited to fluorescently label one of the proteins that make up microtubules, which is known as alpha-tubulin. Allen Institute for Cell Science Image Analyst Derek Thirstrup captured an image of these cells under the microscope, and Senior Software Engineer Dan Toloudis used an in-house graphics tool known as AGAVE to render more realistic shapes, light and shadow in the image. Rachel Tompa, Ph.D.

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


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