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Bone development

Frank Acquaah

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

As babies and children develop, the structure of their bones changes. Each sphere shows bone from the backbone (the first lumbar vertebra, L1, in the lower back) of an infant at a different age. From left to right: 3 months before birth, just before birth, within the first year of life, 1.2 years old and 2.5 years old. These historical bones, from skeletal remains of children who died in the 19th century, were donated by the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

The spheres are not to scale here, so that structural changes in the bone can be easily seen. From left to right they measure 2 mm, 3.5 mm, 5 mm, 10 mm and 8 mm wide. The spinal column from the 1.2-year-old was from a boy who was larger than the 2.5-year-old, a girl, even though he was younger.

Imaging technique: micro-computed tomography

Virtual X-ray slices of bone were taken and used to create a digital 3D model. Spheres of different sizes were virtually cut out from the model, to ensure that the same part of the bone was analysed in each case. Conventional medical computed tomography (CT) and micro-CT both use X-rays to provide information about the object they are scanning, but micro-CT does so on a smaller scale and usually at higher resolution.

Location where image was created

London, UK

Why did the judges choose this image?

“I think these are reminiscent of ancient Chinese seals or ‘chops’, used to sign documents, calligraphy or a painting. These can be made of stone, wood, metal or ivory. Here, the changes in bone as we mature provide a signature of our age and reveal the art inside us.”

Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Francis Crick Institute

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