WATCH: See the winners of Nikon’s “Small World in Motion” video contest
At the intersection of art and science is the annual Nikon “Small world in motionvideo contest, offering insight into the microscopic world invisible to the human eye – with a little help from microscopic technology, that is.
And this year the five winners of the annual competition brings us a deeper look at the tiny elements and organisms our world has to offer.
“Nikon’s Small World is considered the premier forum for showcasing the beauty and complexity of life seen through the optical microscope,” Nikon wrote on its homepage.
The video contest includes films or time-lapse digital photographs taken under a microscope.
Fifth place: presentation of the deadliest animal in the world
Mosquitoes have been dubbed by health experts as the “world’s deadliest animel” because of the diseases they spread – dengue fever, yellow fever, lymphatic filariasis, to name a few – killing more people than any other animal in the world. Although their range is powerful, they are small. Video captured by Dr. Sachie Kanatani of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Dr. Photini Sinnis of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology showed an infected mosquito salivating from fluorescently labeled malaria parasites.
The fifth place winner was captured using what is called confocal imaging, a technique that scans a specimen to create computer-generated optical sections via visible light. These sections are then stacked to provide a three-dimensional reconstruction of the sample at your fingertips.
Fourth place: Mapping the nervous system
Neurons are a complex internal map of living organisms, and Dr. Alexandre Dumoulin from the Department of Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Zurich captured it in his fourth place. The video showed commissural axons “transforming in an organized fashion” after crossing the midline of the central nervous system.
A midline is the central feature of bilateral organisms and contains within it highly specialized cells. For example, the spinal system in humans is our midline. And contained in the midline of some organisms is a type of neuron known as commissural axons that help signal various sensations to organisms. As seen in this video, commissural axons grow and spread somewhat chaotically before changing direction and growing longitudinally toward the brain, according to University College of London.
Third place: the birth of a water flea
Captured by microscopic photographer Andrei Savitsky from Ukraine, the third-place winning video shows a water flea, scientifically named Daphnia pulexgiving birth to several young.
According to the Biodiversity Database Animal Diversity Web, D. pulex is a common species of water flea and is found in almost all types of fresh water – from “rain-filled tire ruts” to tree moss in a rainforest. These tiny organisms look like their cousin the land flea, but are light enough to stay suspended in the water column, using their legs and antennae to get around.
As seen in the video, their surrounding folded shell-like structures, called carapaces, are clear and allow the viewer to see most of the chip’s internal organs and heart. A dark colored eye can also be seen through the insect’s light head.
The video was captured using a technique known as dark ground which creates contrast in the transparent specimens, allowing their bodies to shine through a central light.
Second place: look at an artificial tumor form
A 10-day time lapse captured by Dr. Stephanie Hachey and Dr. Christopher Hughes of the University of California, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Irvine shows an artificial human micro-tumor as it forms and grows metastasis. The vessels, which are shown in red, support the growth of the tumor highlighted in blue.
Confocal use and fluorescencehigh-intensity illumination to “excite fluorescent molecules” in a sample, researchers were able to show how tumors can spread through the human body.
First up: the symbiotic relationship between termites and protists
First place was awarded to Fabien Weston from Sydney, Australia, whose close-up video shows the microfauna in a termite gut.
The microorganisms present in the intestines of termites, also called protists, play an essential role in the digestion of plant cellulose such as wood. These single-celled organisms form a symbiotic relationship with termites to process cellulose, help insects draw nutrition from it, and recycle carbon back into the soil.
“Protists, while largely unknown to the general public, are indeed the most abundant creatures on the planet,” Weston said. “There is a significant gap in our understanding of these termite symbionts and how this unique evolutionary relationship developed with its host that is worth exploring and presenting.”
The blue-tinted video was captured using polarized light passed through a filter in a 1970s research microscope. Weston created an environment with a pH, chemical makeup, and temperature that would keep the symbionts alive.
“The hardest part of capturing this video was finding the right fit for the creatures themselves,” Weston said. “I tried a lot of methods, even preparing my own saline solution. They are very sensitive to oxygen, so I had to remove as much gas as possible from the solution. It was very delicate and I had to work fast. The video you see is the result of months of trial and error, extensive research and perseverance.