Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Natural Born Swimmers
18 January 2012

Natural Born Swimmers

Some tiny organisms use wisp-like ‘hairs’ to help them swim around. So-called cilia are barely visible on the surface of this parasitic worm egg, the thickness of a human hair. A young worm, or larva, is hatching through the rupture. Images like these are made using a scanning electron microscope. A high-energy stream of electrons is fired at an object, producing a 3D representation. When the larva is still in the egg, a protein called p38 MAPK is activated, which keeps the cilia stationary. When it hatches, the protein stops working and the cilia are able to propel the larva forward to find a host snail. Cilia are not just for swimming. We have them in the lining of our lungs. When they don’t work organ damage can result. Studying how cilia work in simple organisms like worms could have important medical consequences.

Written by Roz Pidcock

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