Towards a perceptive understanding of size in cellular biology

Journal name:
Nature Methods
Volume:
14,
Pages:
662–665
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nmeth.4300
Published online

Abstract

Cells are minute—typically too small to be seen by the human eye. Even so, the cellular world encompasses a range of scales, from roughly a tenth of a nanometer (10−10 m) to a millimeter (10−3 m) or larger, spanning seven orders of magnitude or more. Because they are so far from our experience, it is difficult for us to envision such scales. To help our imagination grasp such dimensions, I propose the adoption of a 'perceptive scale' that can facilitate a more direct experience of cellular sizes. From this, as I argue below, will stem a new perception also of biological shape, cellular space and dynamic processes.

At a glance

Figures

  1. The cell is as complex and full of things as a city.
    Figure 1: The cell is as complex and full of things as a city.
  2. The dimensions of objects are easy to identify when they are set in an environment.
    Figure 2: The dimensions of objects are easy to identify when they are set in an environment.

    The cars in the two images are identical; the surrounding objects provide the scale.

  3. Examples of scientific images showing how the inclusion of a familiar object (here, a ten-million-times downsized cat) can improve the viewer's perception of relative scale.
    Figure 3: Examples of scientific images showing how the inclusion of a familiar object (here, a ten-million-times downsized cat) can improve the viewer's perception of relative scale.

    Panel a reproduced with permission from ref. 8. The electron micrograph in panel b was provided by Alice Ting, Stanford University. Panel d reproduced with permission from ref. 9.

References

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Affiliations

  1. Monica Zoppè is at the Scientific Visualization Unit, IFC–CNR, Pisa, Italy.

Competing financial interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

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