My sister Jacqueline made this pattern using images I acquired from a confocal microscope; in these images, we see peanut-allergic Dendritic Cells, which are very important immune messenger cells, happily gobbling up red nanoparticles that I made.
These nanoparticles, which are so small that you could fit 1000 of them across the tip of your hair, carried peanut proteins as well as components of probiotic bacteria. When Dendritic Cells interacted with these nanopeanuts, they stopped being reactive to peanut proteins and then propagated those messages to other immune cells. Ultimately, these nanopeanuts induced immune tolerance and ameliorated peanut allergy. I spent a great deal of thought and energy optimizing the formulation components and conditions of these probiotic nanopeanuts, and I’m happy to report that my work has enabled a clinical trial for peanut allergy, which is ongoing 🙂
To take these images, I dyed Dendritic Cell cytoskeletons (just like our skeletal system provides structure to our bodies, cells have proteins that give them structure!) using a green fluorescent molecule and their nuclei with blue. The nanopeanuts encapsulated a red fluorophore, and confocal microscopes excite each fluorophore with specific wavelengths of light and collect each color on separate channels, taking high-resolution images that can be zoomed in hundreds or thousands of times. To become an expert microscopist, you must master staining cells and many, many hardware and software acquisition settings.
You can dye portions of cells or organs many different colors to identify key features of cells or tissues.
One of my favorite parts of confocal microscopy is that even if you mess up your cell prep or acquisition process, you can still get pretty images; perhaps some of my experimental failures will find their way onto Science Pants!