2021 photo contest Understanding Cholesterol Imbalance

First Place Winner: Understanding Cholesterol Imbalance

By Maciej Stawikowski, Ph.D., Research Professor,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Cholesterol is structurally essential for all eukaryotic cell membranes. Functionally, cholesterol has been indicated in a variety of disorders beyond cardiovascular diseases. Cholesterol and other lipids control many aspects that are relevant for Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis. Maciej Stawikowski, Ph.D., department of chemistry, and Qiang Zhang, Ph.D., Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, both also members of FAU’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, teamed up to study novel fluorescent cholesterol probes that enable visualization of cholesterol and its trafficking in the live cells. This picture shows mouse brain cells (astrocytes) five days after short (1 hour) incubation with novel cholesterol probe made in the Stawikowski’s Laboratory. Cells were stained with a fluorescent mitochondrial marker (cyan) and a novel cholesterol probe (yellow). The yellow puncta contain cholesterol probe localized in yet to be identified vesicles, which move within the cell. We believe that the intracellular cholesterol imbalance may hold the key to understanding Alzheimer’s as well as other neurodegenerative diseases.


Second Place Winner: Hydrogel

Photo by Satviki Singh, undergraduate student,
FAU High School
This photo depicts an electron microscopic image of a chitosan and silver nitrate-based hydrogel, which is being studied as a drug delivery gel for wide spectrum antibiotics. The goal behind this image was to determine how the morphological properties of this hydrogel differ based on the quantity of silver nitrate used and how these properties correspond to the hydrogel's ability to load and unload wide spectrum antibiotics. To image, a small piece of the hydrogel was cut and worked up in ethanol, dried using a critical point dryer, sputter coated in thin layers of gold, and imaged under a scanning electron microscope at 200 μm. The pores on the gel (the holes) will be quantified to determine their impact on the hydrogel’s drug delivery properties. Photo taken using scanning electron microscope imaging at FAU High School Owls Imaging Lab.
 Pinpointing the Origins of Ataxia

Third Place Winner: Pinpointing the Origins of Ataxia

Photo by Patrick Grant, Ph.D., associate professor,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine
Ataxia is a neurodegenerative disease that results in loss of posture, balance, and coordination of movement. An emerging picture is that impairment of a type of star-shaped brain cell called astrocytes is associated with a lack of functional support of neurons that subsequently result in such motor impairments. Here a human astrocyte (red) bearing the mutant gene causing the disease spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7) displays aggregates of the ataxin-7 protein (green) within its cell nucleus (blue). Such protein aggregates are characteristic of progressive disease. In healthy cells this protein is more evenly distributed throughout the nucleus where it functions in controlling the activity of numbers of genes.
 Skin Care 2

2021 In the Field Faculty Winner: Skin Care

Chelsea Bennice, Ph.D., Assistant to the Director of the ASCEND Program,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Octopuses, dubbed as masters of disguise, can change their skin color and skin texture in a blink of an eye! But, what else may this smart skin be important for? Current research at FAU’s Department of Biological Sciences is taking a deep dive in examining the bacterial community (aka microbiome) of the octopus’s skin. Scientific SCUBA dives are conducted in FAU’s backyard (Lake Worth Lagoon) to temporarily bring octopuses on board the floating lab, swab their skin for a bacteria sample, and release them back to sea. This unique set of bacteria could play an important role in keeping octopuses, a key player in many marine food webs, healthy.
 Watercolors Painted with Primary Productivity

2021 In the Field Student Winner: Watercolors Painted with Primary Productivity

Photo by Clark Morgan, graduate student,
FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
The surface colors of estuary outflows through a manmade inlet in St. Lucie County paint a beautifully painful picture of the intersection of natural and anthropogenic forces. First, we see the turquoise blue waters of the warm subtropical Atlantic Ocean, with a harsh line discerning the tidal flux of nutrient packed inshore waters. Unfortunately, the nutrients contributing to primary productivity of plankton at the base of the food chain and vitally important for biogeochemical processes, are murked with the runoff of human development. However, streaks of orange and red suggest that life supporting processes are also occurring in the mix of stratified sediment.
 Reaching the Brain Cortex

Dopamine and Serotonin Neural Projections Reaching the Brain Cortex

Photo by Lorena Bianchine Areal, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine
Neurons that produce serotonin and dopamine are located in a region called midbrain, but can communicate with different parts of the brain through these elaborate projections, also known as axons, that travel long distances. These neurons project widely throughout the brain to control several functions including mood, sleep, movement, memory, reward and motivation. Pictured in green are serotonin projections, in magenta are dopamine projections, and in blue are nuclei of brain cells, in a mouse brain cortex‚ which is the outer layer of the brain. Images were acquired using a confocal microscope after labelling the dopamine and serotonin neurons with antibodies conjugated with fluorescent dyes.
 Starry Skeleton

TIE: 2021 In the Lab Student Winners: Starry Skeleton

Photo by Dawn Raja Somu, graduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
The image shows a 3D model generated from a nano-computerized tomography (nano-CT) of an Acantharian skeleton using Dragonfly ORS Software. Acantharia are marine planktonic organisms whose skeleton is made up of strontium sulfate mineral. The intricate shape of its skeleton is achieved through the controlled interaction of mineral and organic components within the cell. The structure of the skeleton and the arrangement of the spicules can shed light on how the organism is able to create complex structures. Through such work, we hope to understand the form of Acantharian endoskeleton (across several species) and extrapolate on possible growth mechanism.
 Thresher vertebra

TIE: 2021 In the Lab Student Winners: Thresher Vertebra

Photo by Jamie Knaub, graduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Thresher vertebra: Micro-CT image of a cross section of a thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) vertebra. Sharks have mineralized cylindrical vertebrae with a calcified internal architecture. We can use micro-CT (computed tomography) imaging which relies on X-rays to visualize the internal mineral structures. The radiating lines from the center are called lamellae which sometimes branch at intersections termed nodes. Thresher sharks have the highest counts of lamellae and nodes which are believed to contribute to the stiffness and toughness of the vertebral cartilage. Here, the most mineralized portions are colored red. Additionally, the projections at the top and the bottom of the vertebra are the neural arch and hemal arches respectively. Image taken using Bruker Skyscan 1173 micro-CT scanner at FAU High School Owls Imaging Lab.
 Space bear eating

Honorable Mention: Space Bear Eating

Photo by Hunter Hines, Ph.D., visiting researcher,
FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
Taridgrades, known as water bears, are famously tough micro animals less than 1 mm in size. NASA sent cultures of these animals to the International Space Station for experiments in 2021, and this bear was from that same culture. Here it can be seen happily feeding on algae, with two big eggs inside it, and a skin molt above. Studies looking at how these microbes respond to stress in space, and under pressure below the sea are being conducted, as Tardigrade survival abilities may hold the key to advancing human health and exploration on this planet and beyond. Magnified 200 times using phase contrast microscopy.

Honorable Mention: I'm Just Normal

Photo by Gonzalo Illan, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow,
FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
This is a picture of a Florida pompano born and raised at the FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute aquaculture facilities. It has been treated with a process called clear-stain, which shows the anatomy of the skeleton and helps to study malformations during development. That is why it is called "I'm just normal," because the anatomy of this fish is just beautifully normal. Some of his/her partners in the fish tank are not that lucky, and when this happens too often, we start thinking about in-breeding. After staining, the picture was transformed into a negative.
 Scales of a Scarlet Kingsnake

Honorable Mention: Scales of a Scarlet Kingsnake

Photo by Arwen Paredes, undergraduate student,
FAU High School
Image of Scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) scales taken by student by placing shed snakeskin under a scanning electron microscope for use in her Palm Beach County Science Fair project. The goal of the project was to evaluate the effectiveness of varying snakeskin structures in reducing rolling friction. This image was used by the researcher to create the 3D-printed models of snakeskin tires used in this experiment. The ventral scale texture shown ended up producing the most friction, as they were tested on a smooth surface and therefore unable to grip the terrain. However, the greater applications of this experiment includes the use of these wheel structures in devices made to traverse the terrain of other planets, specifically in Mars rovers. This project won third in the category of environmental engineering. Image taken at FAU High School Owls Imaging Lab.
 Sandi Kasakela Chimpanzee Community, Gombe NP, Tanzania

Honorable Mention: Sandi

Photo by Connor Cane, undergraduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Sandi, Kasekela chimpanzee community, Gombe National Park, Tanzania: Dr. Jane Goodall’s revolutionary scientific research on chimpanzees in Gombe National Park forever altered our understanding of primate social groups. It is an honor to work alongside Kate Detwiler, Ph.D., associate professor, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, as she continues to expand the breadth of scientific knowledge obtained from groups of Cercopithecus monkeys in this renowned habitat. During our fieldwork, which focused on photo data collection for AI/ML advances in Detwiler’s ongoing studies, we encountered “Sandi” pictured here gazing into the tree canopy. Sandi is a member of the “S” family of primates from the Kasekela chimpanzee community residing in Gombe National Park. Contributing to the legacy of scientific research at Gombe National Park is the highlight of my FAU experience. It was a true pleasure to meet Sandi in the field.
 Sun coral - Tubastrea faulkneri

Honorable Mention: Sun Coral

Photo by Anton Oleinik, Ph.D., associate professor,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Invertebrate marine biodiversity of the western Atlantic. These slow-growing corals do not contribute to the growth of coral reefs and they do not live in symbiosis with zooxanthellae, which allow them to grow in complete darkness. Picture was taken at night on the wreck of the German steamship Antilla off the coast of Aruba.
 male red-tailed monkey

Honorable Mention: Feeding Time

Photo by Charlene Fournier, graduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
This picture represents Figiri, a subadult male red-tailed monkey born in a habituated mixed-species group between red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius) and blue monkeys (C. mitis) in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Red-tailed monkeys are known for their distinct facial coloring patterns, such as white cheeks and nose, golden crown and dark face. Figiri is eating fruits of the Lukungu tree (Grewia platyclada), which bares fruit only during the dry season between May and September. Cercopithecus monkeys have defined home ranges, but their ranging patterns are seasonal, affected by food availability, which in turn is affected by annual precipitation. During the dry season, members of our study group spend most of their early mornings feeding in the Lukungu trees located on the lake shore.
 You Talkin' To Me?

Honorable Mention: You Talkin' To Me?

Photo by Morgan Slevin, graduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
The Northern Cardinal is the original “Angry Bird” and for good reason. Males are highly territorial, meaning they will aggressively defend their territory and its resources to protect what’s theirs. Males with the best territory have the best resources, such as a fertile female, good nesting sites, plentiful food resources and minimal predators. The main way males defend a territory is by broadcasting songs that communicate aggressive intent, or by chasing away other males that intrude into their territory. Part of my research entails helping undergraduate students test hypotheses about how males communicate with one another. They do this by determining what qualities in these territorial songs they find the most threatening by quantifying aggressiveness during social interactions.
 Shark Olfactory Tissue

Honorable Mention: Shark Olfactory Tissue

Photo by Aubrey Clark, graduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
The olfactory system of sharks is important for survival. To learn more about the system, we use histological staining and a compound microscope to examine the different types of cells. The tissue in this image is from a Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni). Image taken with equipment at the FAU High School Owls Imaging Lab.
AFM images of prion fragment 106-128 fibrillization reaction⁠

People's Choice Winner: AFM images of prion fragment 106-128 fibrillization reaction⁠

Photo by Deepika Regmi, Ph.D., graduate student,
Charles E. Schmidt College of Science
Prion disease is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system. Prion fragments (106-128) have a high propensity to accumulate in the brain and cause prion diseases. We want to investigate an anti-prion compound that inhibits or delays the aggregation process. Green tea contains polyphenols and flavonoids — an important class of antioxidants — and can therefore fight or even prevent diseases. The AFM image of the prion 106-128 fibrillization reactions in in-vitro conditions, under physiological conditions, incubated for 85 hours in the absence and presence of polyphenols. ⁠

Image 1: The prion peptide itself forms dense amyloid fibrils (without polyphenols).⁠
Image 2: The fibrillization reaction of prion peptides with 100 µM naringenin (polyphenol).
Image 3: The formation of amyloid fibrils of prion peptides with 100 µM quercetin (polyphenol). Quercetin slightly inhibits the aggregation of prion peptides.⁠