Winners' gallery

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Developing spinal cord

Gabriel Galea, University College London

Our spines allow us to stand and move, and they protect the spinal cord, which connects all the nerves in our body with our brain. The spinal cord is formed from a structure called the neural tube, which develops during the first month of pregnancy. This series of three images shows the open end of a mouse’s neural tube, with each image highlighting (in blue) one of the three main embryonic tissue types. On the left is the neural tube itself, which develops into the brain, spine and nerves. On the right is the surface ectoderm – the word ‘ectoderm’ comes from the Greek ektos meaning ‘outside’ and derma meaning skin – which will eventually form the skin, teeth and hair. The middle image shows the mesoderm (also from Greek, meaning ‘middle skin’), which will form the organs.

Problems can occur with neural tube development, such as in spina bifida, in which the bones of the spine and the spinal cord do not form correctly. Researchers are studying mouse neural tubes to try and prevent the development of such conditions.

The neural tubes here are approximately 1 mm long.

Imaging technique: Confocal microscopy

A type of light microscopy that uses visible light (usually in the form of one or more lasers) to illuminate part of the object being viewed. Out-of-focus light above and below the point of focus is filtered out and eliminated from the final image. Thin optical slices through an object can be stacked on top of one another to produce a digital 3D reconstruction.

Location where image was created

London, UK

Image creator

Gabriel is a qualified veterinarian who has largely set aside clinical practice in order to apply his physiology training to scientific research. He is interested in embryonic morphogenesis, the developmental period in which organs are formed during pregnancy. His current work is funded by a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowship, and is based on neural tube closure, as depicted in his image. Find out more. 

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