There he blows!
As part of my PhD research at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, I am flying a quadcopter drone to study the health of large whales in Atlantic Canada. Our drone has a visible-spectrum camera that provides a unique, up-close, and non-invasive opportunity to assess a whale’s body condition and look for injuries or entanglements. We also have a thermal camera on the drone to collect thermal images to estimate the whale’s body temperature (like a contactless thermometer!) I photographed this mature male humpback whale in the Bay of Fundy in September 2020. The drone was ~12 m high, so we could obtain close-up imagery of the whale’s blowholes when it came to the surface for a breath. Whales often exhale a plume of vapor and mucus (called a “blow”), making them easy to spot from land or boat. This blow happened to reflect the sunlight in such a manner that it produced a rainbow!
Thinking without a brain
Pictured here in this yellow spiral is a slimy, single cell called Physarum polycephalum or “slime mold.” This cell has no brain or neural architecture but is incredibly intelligent, capable of solving mazes, recreating human-designed railway networks, learn, and store memories. We seek to explain how this simple slime mold uses its body as both a distributed sensor and biological computer to make long-range decisions. The view that even the simplest of life forms can perform biological computations that are deliberate or even goal-directed and display a minimal form of cognition not unlike our own is an emerging curiosity of science that is challenging assumptions that only brains can think and feel. Understanding the computational language of the Physarum and other simple organisms will inform the design of bioinspired artificial intelligences and uncover the origins of thought itself.
Zein proteins, saviors of the gluten-free galaxy
Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity combined are estimated to affect about 6% of the Canadian population. As the demand for gluten-free food products increases, the need for a gluten alternative in the bakery sector is becoming more and more pressing. This image shows zein protein fibrils (red) covering starch granules (blue) in a dough-like structure on a microscopic scale. The formation of a zein fibrillar network is instrumental for its potential as a high-quality gluten alternative for the bakery sector. This picture gives a clear visualization of the fibrillar structure of zein swirling around the starch granules providing dough consistency and extensibility. Are these unique proteins the long-awaited solution to the development of high-quality gluten-free bakery products?
What appear to be smooth hexagonal rods in this image are metal–organic frameworks (MOFs)—a captivating class of highly structured porous materials, comprised of inorganic and organic building blocks. Captured in three-dimension is NU-1000, a type of MOF that is comprised of zirconium, carbon, and oxygen. The material was successfully synthesized using a green solvent derived from biorenewable sources, and thus implementing principles from the field of green chemistry. This paves the way for the sustainable synthesis and use of MOFs in potential applications including, but not limited to, wastewater remediation, chemical separations, and gas capture and storage. When synthesized, NU-1000 appears as a bright yellow microcrystalline powder, which is brought out in this image with the yellow highlights surrounding the MOF material.
As a result of climate change, freezing rain events could well become more frequent and more extreme in Québec. Being able to predict which trees, in urban areas, would be most likely to suffer broken branches from the weight of the ice could be helpful. This can be done using a laser scanner to generate 3-D images of trees that reveal their detailed structure. On this Montréal silver maple, seen face on and from above, the potential for ice build-up is represented by a colour gradient from white (low) to blue (high).
This fake sun is a biofilm—a bacterial community “welded together” by a matrix of sugars and proteins. The combination of two species—Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus—produces this extremely water-resistant structure. S. aureus is responsible for the yellow colour, as well as for various chronic infections in humans. These infections are sometimes hard to treat because S. aureus is resistant to many antibiotics. So, how can this resistance be overcome? Researchers are focusing on making genetic modifications to B. subtilis in the hopes of rendering it capable of neutralizing its partner.
Watch out! Deadly plankton!
The plankton found along our coasts include some toxic species of the genus Alexandrium. The specimen shown here has been “colourized” in scarlet as a reminder of the dangerous red tides it can cause (in green, a bacterium). In 2008, these microscopic killers invaded the St. Lawrence estuary, spreading over an area of 600 km2. Their paralyzing toxin decimated huge numbers of fish, seabirds, seals and belugas, and forced the closing of shellfish beds. To prevent such a toxic bloom from affecting Canada’s Arctic, where the local population is dependent on fishing, harmful plankton is monitored.
Casting light on ground relief
LiDAR technology is a remote sensing method that involves measuring distances with a high degree of precision by illuminating a target using a laser beam and capturing its reflection. Mounted on an aircraft, this technology can be used to digitally reconstruct the Earth’s relief and thereby discover elements hidden under the forest canopy. Applications of the technology range from mapping flood-prone areas to detecting archaeological remains. The picture shown here reveals the meanderings of the Ouelle River, near Saint-Pacôme, as well as various geomorphological features such as rock outcrops (dark masses) and sandy beaches formed by ancient seas.
Life through rose-coloured glasses
Very few people have seen a katydid of this colour! In fact, very few people can recognize a katydid, even a green one. Katydids, like Amblycorypha oblongifolia, which is found in Québec, are more active at night, unlike grasshoppers. This oblong-winged katydid owes its unusual colouring to a rare genetic mutation called “erythrism.” Since the mutant gene should be dominant, pink specimens should outnumber others in the wild. In an effort to understand why most are still green, the Insectarium is attempting to start up the world’s first pink katydid farm!
A jewel box of bright stars
Globular clusters are immense spherical agglomerations of stars. The image shows NGC 362, one of the about 170 globular clusters that exist in our Galaxy. Each bright dot in the image is a star. From its color and brightness we can derive stellar properties such as temperature, mass and age, which tells us about the structure, chemical composition and dynamical history of the Milky Way. The position of the star in the cluster is also relevant: Everyday experiences tell us that more massive objects tend to sink while lighter objects tend to float; the same behavior is expected from the stars in a globular cluster. This image helps us to better understand the evolution of the stars in NGC 362 and how massive stars end up near the center of some globular clusters.
An injury not pictured
This is an image of peripherally injured neurons in the spinal cord. We engineered a model organism that allows us to specifically edit the genome of injured neurons to help us understand what genes could be detrimental to successful regeneration and which ones could be harnessed to promote a more complete regeneration. This knowledge would be useful to those trying to enhance recovery following peripheral nerve damage, and to those studying spinal cord or brain injury. In this particular image we turned on a gene that produces a red fluorescent protein to show that our model works the way we would expect it to. The negative space represents where the injury took place which was outside of spinal cord, demonstrating the connectivity of the nervous system.
Blue mouse group
Unlike pictures in textbooks, proteins are not colored in real life. To identify the location of important proteins involved in the development, scientists employed a coloring method named “X-gal staining.” We genetically modify the mouse genome such that the protein of interest will carry a “tag” (officially called “reporter protein,” and more scientifically “β-GAL”). When this tag comes into contact with a special chemical (X-gal), the tag turns blue. In this image, we depict the location of an important protein (WNTLESS) in mouse embryos. This protein manages the availability of a group of essential molecules (Wnt molecules) during development. We labelled WNTLESS with this method and found blue staining concentrated in the mouse developing brain. This leads us to recognize the crucial role of this protein and the molecules it manages in brain development.
Common carnivory – uncommon detail
Carnivorous plants are found in bogs and low nutrient areas across Canada where they supplement meager soil nutrients by capturing and digesting animal prey. In our work, we use tools like stable isotopes, DNA barcodes and scanning electron microscopy to help understand who is eating whom within Algonquin Park’s carnivorous plants and insects. One such microscopic drama is captured in our close-up of a fly caught in the sticky tentacle-like leaves of a sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). The insect likely died quite quickly and would have been digested over a period of days. The bogs of Algonquin Park are filled with carnivorous plants and biting flies; so, our image captures the final moments of a common ecological drama in uncommonly intimate detail.
My research focuses on the immediate and long-lasting effects of adolescent stress, pain, and drug exposure. A lot of preclinical research using rodent models has neglected females and sex differences. The estrous cycle, similar to the menstrual cycle in humans, is about 4 days long and can be tracked by obtaining a sample of vaginal cells and identifying the cell type under a microscope. Different cell types are present during different stages of the estrous cycle, and thus cell identification can provide estrous stage. Physiological and behavioural outcomes assessed in our research are known to vary across the estrous cycle, thus it is important to assess estrous phase at critical points to account for any impact particular stages may have on our dependent measures.
Freshly baked dust doughnuts from our local cosmic café
Nienke van der Marel
On a clear dark night, the plane of our Galaxy can be seen arching overhead, filled with bright stars and dark clouds of dust. These dark clouds are nebulae, which provide the material for new stars to form by gravitational collapse. Such a collapse produces a young star surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust in which new planets are forming. This gallery shows 37 images of dust disks around nearby young stars observed by the ALMA radio telescope. ALMA can observe wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye where the star and planets are undetectable, but small dust grains the size of coffee grounds glow brightly. The unseen young planets can sculpt the disk into a beautiful structure of rings and arcs as they carve gaps along their orbits. By studying these structures, astronomers learn how and when planets form and gain insight into the origins of our own solar system.
Ghost in the shell
The human brain is one of the most complex biological networks we know. Our brain contains trillions of connections between different neurons. With powerful brain imaging techniques, notably diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientists are now beginning to chart these connections in the living human brain. This technique traces water diffusion in the brain, which preferentially runs along the course of myelinated, fatty fiber tracts. By obtaining an increasingly detailed map of brain wiring, researchers are increasingly unlocking how thoughts and feelings are generated, how the brain grows and ages, and how common brain disorders can be identified and potentially prevented.
Hackles and cackles and rattles
European Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, sing long, complex songs and unlike most passerines, learn songs throughout their life. This photograph shows a male starling's iridescent hackle (throat) feather under a dissecting microscope. Hackles get longer and gain more iridescence over time, and so are used to assign adult Starlings into age groups (second year vs. after second year or first-time vs. experienced breeders). The focus of our research is to investigate whether song complexity and bout duration correlate with male age, and reproductive success in a population of European Starlings in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Research has shown that song complexity plays a role in female attraction. We predict that females listen closely to select a mate having greater song complexity which coincides with longer and more iridescent hackles, resulting in high reproductive success.
The image shows hippocampal neurons, which are essential for learning and memory. These neurons are isolated from a transgenic mouse model of a pediatric neurodegenerative disease which causes cell death, leading to memory loss and dementia. Neurons were grown 21 days on cover slip in vitro and stained with two neuronal markers. The red one, Synapsin1, is a neuron-specific structural protein which is used as a marker for analyzing neuronal phenotype. The green marker, MAP2, is used for visualizing synaptic vesicles whose number decreases in the disorder. Moreover, the nuclei of the neurons, where DNA is stored, are stained with DAPI and they appear in blue. We are developing a series of treatments whose efficacy is evaluated by the variations of these markers. To capture this image confocal laser scanning microscopy with a magnification factor of 20X is used.
Nuclear traffic in fungal highways
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) belong to an ancient group of soil fungi that form symbiotic associations with the roots of most terrestrial vascular plants. AMF are commonly used as soil additives, aiming to enhance plant growth. Their genetics have long been mysterious. While typical cells carry one nucleus, the cells of AMF carry thousands of nuclei that can be genetically diverse. The co-existence of thousands of nuclei of diverse genotypes in single cells is unique to these fungi, and the mechanisms driving the nucleus populations and genetic diversity are still unknown. By visualizing the nuclei in the AMF cells (spores and hyphae as seen in our image), we aim to understand how these nuclei cooperate with one another as a means to improve the application of these fungi in agriculture.
Mother Nature is an artist and minerals are among the most beautiful natural art that we find on Earth. From large gemstones to small intricate nanominerals, minerals fascinate us at all levels. Understanding the textural relationships and the chemistry of minerals at the micron scale allows us to understand large-scale geological processes and how the Earth was formed. This quadriptych depicts an amygdule (mineralized vesicle) filled with zeolite minerals growing in an alkaline basalt from the far northeastern province of Ratanakiri in Cambodia (FOV 1.95 mm). Our mineralogical research in Ratanakiri and Takeo provinces is helping to increase knowledge of a country which has largely been ignored by the geological and mineralogical community. To date, it has added to the general understanding of the geology of the Ratanakiri province and uncovered new mineral localities.
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