Deep inside our ears is a bristling forest of tiny fingers. These are stereocilia – microscopic hair-like structures that wobble in response to sound waves. Their movement triggers signals to the brain that get interpreted as noises from the world around us, from The Beatles to breaking glass. Problems with the stereocilia can cause deafness, so scientists are trying to understand the molecules that make them in order to find cures. These red fronds are the developing stereocilia in a baby rat’s ear, stained with a fluorescent dye, while the green dots reveal the locations of two different molecules. The one highlighted in the image on the left helps to build the delicate structures early on, while the one on the right helps to maintain them throughout life. Figuring out how these molecules work – or don’t work in deaf people – could provide future solutions for hearing loss.
Written by Kat Arney
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