Hug a micro-bear

Water bears. Moss piglets. Those are just two examples of “cutesy” names for tardigrades (literally “slow stepper”; because they look like they do everything in slow motion), some of the most amazing animals in existence (IMO). These little animals, averaging 0.5 mm when fully grown, are almost cute with their short, plump little bodies, eight legs and looking a bit like a tiny Michelin guy.

Ugh, I’m so fabulous! (scanning electron microscope image of  SEM image of Hypsibius dujardini)

Water bears and water-dwelling tiny animals that mostly live in mosses and liches (top tip – get yourself a pet tardigrade by soaking some moss in water), but basically can be found anywhere (#GlobalCitizen).

And I mean everywhere. Some tardigrades live on the highest mountaintops. Others in the deepest trenches in the sea. They have been found in rainforests as well as in Antarctic regions. This is because tardigrades are so awesome. While they are not exactly extremophiles (organisms adapted to survive extreme conditions such as extreme temperature and pressure), they are able to survive extreme conditions for a certain length of time. Expose them for too long, and they will die, unfortunately. But expose them to extreme conditions, including very high or low temperatures, incredibly high or low pressure, air deprivation, dehydration or starvation for (depending on the system) a lot longer than what humans would survive, and they will bounce back! Some tardigrades have gone without water for more than 30 years, just to rehydrate and get back to living.

Happy Space Tardigrade
I mean, tardigrades can survive space! Tardigrades have been exposed to open space and solar radiation combined for 10 days and have lived to tell the tale. This makes them the first known animal to survive in space.
Just to give you a few more examples of the extreme conditions tardigrades have survived in:
    • Tardigrades have survived extreme temperatures, such as a few minutes at 420 K (151 °C) or 1 K (-272 °C) at the other extreme. Put one in -20 °C and it could survive for 30 years.
    • As well as surviving the extremely low pressure of a vacuum, they can withstand very high pressures such as 1200 times the atmospheric pressure (or even 6000 times for some species).
    • The longest that living tardigrades have been shown to survive in a dry state is nearly 10 years.
    • Tardigrades can survive 1000 times more radiation than other animals.R8CozXH
Basically, they could survive global extinctions. In fact, they are one of the few groups that have survived Earth’s five mass extinctions.
So after the end of the world, whether human-inflicted or natural, we can at least count on these amazing little creatures to survive the apocalypse. Maybe they will even evolve to giant, sentient, space-travelling (no spaceship required) giant water-bears.
Actually, giant water bears would be terrifying. Let’s not think about that.

Most (read: all) of this was found on wikipedia, the ultimate internet information hub that we all love to hate. I found the images at some point while browsing imgur, they’ve been on my phone waiting to be used for ages. I can’t find their original source.



Over the past two months I have collected pictures, taken with my not-always-so-smart phone, of views on the Tay Bridge from the top floor of my building. I mainly wanted to characterise the different types of suspended water particles based on how limited the resulting view was. However, in the mean time, the clouds have lifted, or at least occasionally, so I was unable to gather all the reference pictures needed for my mist-classification project. It was going to range from “I cannot even see the church tower” to “wooooow”. Instead, I was treated on some colourful sunrises. Hardly something to complain about.

Here is a mini subcollection of those pictures, including one from yesterday showing the hint of snow we have received:

So, before January ends and I sound like a complete div: Happy New Year. May it be filled with beautiful sunrises and other things people wish each other.

I spent another day behind a microscope.

2D MDCK layer
Image taken on a Zeiss 710 Confocal microscope at the University of Dundee.
MDCK spheroid and 2D layer
Image taken on a Zeiss 710 Confocal microscope at the University of Dundee.
3D MDCK spheroids
Image taken on a Zeiss 710 Confocal microscope at the University of Dundee.
Glowing edges filter
Image taken on a Zeiss 710 Confocal microscope at the University of Dundee, but then put through a filter.

The last images are put though the very professional “Glowing edges” filter found in Microsoft Office Powerpoint.

My first confocal image

Originally posted on 17 Nov 2014

It might not be much.

It might not be particularly good.

It might not show anything significant.

But nevertheless… I have run my first confocal image sequence. And I have proof!

I present to you: a Phalloidin/Hoechst stained MDCK cyst!

(both a single slice as a multiple intensity projection of the z-stack)

Image taken on a Zeiss 710 Confocal microscope at the University of Dundee.
Image taken on a Zeiss 710 Confocal microscope at the University of Dundee.

More/nicer to come soon!

Pretty Pictures

Originally posted on 29 Aug 2014

After two weeks of a semi-intensive microscopy workshop, I have learned several interesting things. Additionally, I have also learned some valuable life lessons.

  1. You’re never too old to be a crazy scientist. I know this because putting dry ice into a glass of lemonade is completely irrelevant but totally cool. Never grow up.
  2. The whole point of microscopy is to make pretty pictures². There are multiple ways of achieving this – obviously I am now an expert after this course – but if you want to be published, the end result just has to look amazing.

Exhibit A:

Octopus bimaculoides. Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscopy with a Zeiss light sheet microscope ( Image courtesy of Eric Edsinger & Daniel S. Rokhsar, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

This looks absolutely incredible, right? It is a tiny embryo octopus, but don’t you just want to own it and train it and use it to be the very best? Of course you do!

Exhibit B:

Image published in Nature Nanotechnology. “Protein-inorganic hybrid nanoflowers”, J. Ge, J. Lei and R.N. Zare. DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2012.80

Sometimes not only the imaging technique, but the whole point of creating a structure is just to have something pretty, like this nanoflower. I’ve got to admit, giving me that on a first date would definitely work in your favour.

However, at this very moment; all I’m able to image are things like this:

Image taken on a Nikon eclipse TS100 at the University of Dundee.

Just look at those phase rings! And the bad resolution! Awful!

But at least this collection of cells looks pretty peaceful, so that’s something.

² Footnote (it is number two because of simplicity, ² is on my keyboard): this obviously isn’t true. The point is to make images that have the right quality to show what you want to know. It’s just more fun if they turn out to be pretty (and) awesome.