Fruit fly embryo in focus

U. SHEFFIELD (US) — This image of a fruit fly embryo was taken when it was only 20 hours old and about the size of a needle’s eye.

It shows the anterior (head end) to the left and three cell membrane proteins that are fluorescently labeled in blue, green, and red.

Samantha Warrington, a postgraduate student at the University of Sheffield, took the image—and took the top prize in the “close-up category” at the Society of Biology’s Photographic Competition, organized to mark the United Nation’s designation of 2010 as the “International Year of Biodiversity.”

The photo is a cross-section through the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) embryo, the outer layer (the epidermis) can be seen in green. At the back end of the embryo are two large round holes (the spiracles), which are required for breathing.

The blue branched structure running along the top edge of the embryo is part of the tracheal system, a network of tubes that carry air from the spiracles to internal tissues. Other structures visible inside the embryo are parts of the gut and nervous system, including the hindgut, which is a distinctive shepherd’s crook shape in green.

“I chose this photograph to submit because it shows the outer surface of the fly while still giving the impression of looking deeper within the embryo at the fly’s internal structures, which made it look more interesting,” says Warrington.

“This image is not only very striking but even beautiful. It really shows how scientific techniques lead to knowledge and understanding that can be accessible to all of us. The fluorescent colors of confocal microscopy clearly pick out the parts and functions of this tiny organism with fascinating clarity,” says Catherine Draycott, the Head of Wellcome Images and a judge of the competition.

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