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The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Scientists win finalist spots in cell imaging competition

Two high-resolution, microscopic photos of cells captured in the midst of mitosis are among 30 finalists in the GE Healthcare Life Sciences 2013 Cell Imaging Competition. Voting is open until Dec. 20.

Jim Powers, manager of IU’s Light Microscopy Imaging Center, and Amber Yount, a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Biochemistry Graduate Program at IU, each took one of the photos.

“At this point, it’s a public popularity contest, so we need all the votes we can get,” Powers said. 

Powers’ photo, which was taken as part of a collaboration project with Joe Gall at the Carnegie Institution, shows a newt chromosome in a cell process called splicing.

Splicing means a strand of mRNA is splitting apart into two different strands. After that, one quickly degrades while the other becomes a mature strand of mRNA, ready for translation into an amino acid that will later fold into an active protein.

The folding process is what Powers and Gall were studying when the photo was shot with a $1.2 million super-resolution microscope camera called the
DeltaVision OMX.

Five lasers and three cameras work within the OMX to record faster than 400 frames a second. Powers said it has twice the resolution of any other light microscope at IU.

“This has made a huge difference in what we can see,” Powers said.

When Powers snapped the photo, he said he saw a heart.

The RNA splicing factor, dyed red, was dispersed in the shape of a heart, while a blue-dyed RNA-producing enzyme called Polymerase II surrounded it.

Powers said it’s that kind of image that gets him excited about his job after 25 years of practicing microscopy.

“I am a visual person, so for me, seeing is a big part of believing,” he said. “I still get very excited by the images we create every day.  We see new things that are part of us or the world around us, how things fit together, how things move, how we — our cells — work.”

Yount’s photo shows a HeLa cell, a type of cervical cancer cell that’s been widely used in developing drugs and vaccines since the 1950s.

In the picture, purple, orange and blue-dyed proteins cluster around green-tinted DNA to create a multicolored orb.

The two photos are from a collection of Powers’ favorites, which line the walls of the imaging center.

“When I see images that are especially visually pleasing, I add those to my collection images,” he said. “I print many of these to hang on the wall in the LMIC, and it’s from this collection that I chose images to submit to the contest.”

They’re now among 30 from around the world that can be voted for online.

Last year, IU research associate Jane Stout won the competition. In its entirety, more than 15,000 votes were cast.

Powers said he hopes to continue the winning streak.

The prize is a trip for two to New York City, and the winning image will be featured in GE’s next Cell Imaging Calendar as well as on the cover of a 2014 issue of science magazine, BioTechniques.

There’s one drawback though, Powers said.

Since IU has two photos that made it to the finals, votes might be divided.

“We’re a little worried that a split vote will hurt our chances of winning this year, so a big IU vote in general would really help,” he said.

Photos can be viewed and voted for at

Ashley Jenkins on Twitter @ashley_morga

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