Beauty is Everywhere


Photo by Patrick Grant, Ph.D., associate professor, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine

Beauty is Everywhere

2021 Art of Science Third Place Winner: Pinpointing Origins of Brain Disease

Is it a galaxy? Maybe an eyeball? Or a glorious gemstone? None of the above. It’s actually the 600 times magnification of a mutant star-shaped brain cell, which showcases research and beauty, according to Patrick Grant, Ph.D., whose picture of such earned third place in the 2021 annual Art of Science photo contest, hosted by FAU’s Division of Research.

In this photograph, the enlarged brain cell, called an astrocyte cell, highlights a mutant protein shown in green, within the cell’s nucleus, or center. It’s found in one type of fatal neurodegenerative disease, Ataxia, studied in the Grant lab and results in loss of posture, balance and coordination of movement, as well as blindness. “In healthy cells, this protein is more evenly distributed throughout the nucleus,” said Grant, an associate professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.

“The colors of this image are striking to me, and particularly the intensity of the green that pinpoints the accumulation of mutant Ataxin-7 protein,” he said. “Normally Ataxin-7 is evenly spread throughout the cell nucleus and this image reveals a distinctive feature of the abnormality associated with this disease.”

The photograph was taken using immunofluorescence microscopy, a technique that employs fluorescent dyes to visualize molecules under a light microscope. Cells were grown and then fixed on glass slides and stained to show the nuclei, cell margins and Ataxin-7 protein.

“Blending art and science is enjoyable, even though much of what we do doesn't usually give us an opportunity to look at artistic elements,” Grant said. “Microscopy is one exception.”

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