We might think of cells as shapeless blobs, but just like us they have an internal skeleton that gives them structure and allows movement. Unlike our bones, however, which are rigid and immovable, the cell skeleton is a network of flexible cylinders called microtubules. They can grow or shorten rapidly, bend and change position to sculpt the shape of the cell. In this human epithelial cell, the microtubule skeleton has been fluorescently labelled (the outline of the cell membrane can’t be seen). Using a new technique called scanning angle interference imaging scientists are now able to produce a reconstruction of the cell skeleton’s position in 3D space – the pattern of colours on the right indicates that the microtubules are curving away from us (close ones are falsely coloured green while those further away have been coloured red). Techniques like this allow tiny cell structures to be more accurately visualised.
Written by Emma Stoye
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.