Olympus/Nature competition

A 1, 2, 3 in light microscopy

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The standard of entries in the Olympus and Nature Light Microscopy Competition was extremely high. But there could be only one winner: a stunning image of a dividing newt lung cell.

Light microscopy is undergoing its greatest upheaval since Ernst Abbe radically improved the design of microscopes over a century ago, most notably by introducing the condenser, which greatly enhanced the quality of illumination. Now, experienced microscopists, confronted by one of the new-fangled, computer-assisted microscopes, are often left wondering which knob to twiddle first. Nevertheless, the resplendent array of entries in the Olympus and Nature Light Microscopy Competition, announced earlier this year on 6 April with a closing date of 13 October, leaves little doubt that a new breed of micro scopists has arisen and has met the challenge heroically.

Gauging the skill shown by the competitors proved to be a challenge in itself, in that the equipment used for the entries ranged from modest student microscopes to complex and sometimes highly modified laboratory installations. But the judges had little need of lengthy deliberation to select a stunning image of a dividing newt lung cell (Fig. 1) for the star prize. It was taken by Alexey Khodjakov, a research scientist at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York. This technical tour de force shows the major structural components of the mitotic spindle that is central to the process of cell division. Centrosomes (magenta) serve as nucleating centres from which microtubules (green) grow outward. The growing ends of microtubules interact with kinetochores on the chromosomes (blue), and the whole apparatus is kept in place and separated from the rest of the cellular organelles by a cage of keratin filaments (red). As a fitting reward for this effort, Dr Khodjakov carries off the latest in compact digital camera technology: an Olympus Camedia C-2500L camera.

Figure 1: First prize, Alexey Khodjakov.

This image of a newt lung cell shows the metaphase cell stained for centrosomes (magenta), microtubules (green), chromosomes (blue) and intermediate filaments (red). It is a maximal intensity projection through the entire cell volume. Technical details. Custom-modified TE200 microscope with 60 × 1.4 na objective, piezo-positioner, filter wheel and Hamamatsu Orca II camera. Magnification, × 1,260.

The second prize of a Camedia C-2000 Zoom camera goes to Eric Cho of The Chinese University, Hong Kong. He used a Zeiss Axioskop to obtain a strikingly beautiful immunofluorescence image of a hamster retina (Fig. 2), with axons shown in red and the processes of astrocytes in blue. This image reveals the intimate relationships between the axons of the retinal ganglion cells, which carry light signals to the brain, and the astrocytes and blood vessels, which play important supporting roles. For all the sophistication of the latest digital image sensors, they still have some way to go before they can match the resolving power and remarkable image processing packed into the vertebrate retina.

Figure 2: Second prize, Eric Cho.

The region around the optic disc of a hamster retina showing axons (red) of retinal ganglion cells converging onto the disc. Blood vessels going into and out of the retina via the optic disc are outlined by the processes of astrocytes (blue) wrapping around them. Technical details. Immunofluorescence using anti-neurofilament antibody and anti-GFAP antibody to reveal the ganglion cell axons and astrocytes, respectively. The nuclei of ganglion cells are labelled by applying Diamidino Yellow to the optic nerve. Epifluorescence on Zeiss Axioskop with 10× Neofluar objective and SPOT camera. Magnification, ×82.

An attractive, traditional image of a most unusual specimen carried off the third prize of an Olympus Camedia C-920 Zoom camera. Jason Hilton, an NERC research fellow in palaeobotany and evolutionary plant biology at the University of Cardiff, used an Olympus BX 40 microscope and CCD camera to take this transmitted-light micrograph of a permineralized fossil seed nearly 300 million years old (Fig. 3). This specimen, prepared around a hundred years ago, reveals uncanny cellular detail that bears comparison to that seen in preparations from living plants.

Figure 3: Third prize, Jason Hilton.

Part of a fossilized ovule of Stephanospermum akenoides Brongn. from the Late Carboniferous of Grand Croix, France. This specimen, which is about 290 million years old, shows exceptional preservation through permineralization by silica. Specimen number 1738 from the Oliver Slide Collection, Natural History Museum, London. Technical details. Transmitted light on Olympus BX 40 microscope with Olympus Plan 20× 0.4 na objective and Olympus DP10 digital camera. Magnification, ×257.

All entries were of a consistently high standard. Thanks from myself, Olympus and Nature go to all of the competitors.

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Correspondence to Graham A. Dunn.

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