Saturday, December 3, 2016

Nature’s Nets

This image shows two immune cells known as neutrophils, magnified hundreds of times with a scanning electron microscope. First discovered more than a hundred years ago, they act as the first line of defense in the body, pumping out anti-microbial chemicals and swallowing up bacteria and viruses.

But in 2004, high-powered microscopes revealed a third mode of attack: casting out a deadly net of DNA and protein fibres – shown spewing from the right-hand cell in this image – that catches and disarms invading bugs. Formally known as neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), they form localized ‘cages’ that focus germ-fighting power in a small area and avoid causing damage to neighbouring healthy cells.

Although this is a powerful infection-beating mechanism, it’s not so good for the neutrophil. Because forming a NET requires the cell to throw out all its DNA – containing all the genetic instructions for life – it dies in the process.

This image is a finalist in the International Images for Science 2016 exhibition, organised by the Royal Photographic Society and supported by Siemens as part of the Curiosity Project

Image by Stavros Giaglis
Story via BPoD

Corina Marinescu

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