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Microscopic farmer

I am a plant biologist and microscopist at Caltech. I use confocal microscopy to study the formation of flowers from a few cells at the tip of the stem, and the genes and hormones that control their growth. This technique allows me to visualize which cells in vivo, are developing flowers, activating specific genes or responding to different hormones. One of the main reasons I studied biology in the first place is that, of all sciences, biology is the one that leaves the most room for artistic expression, with drawing being part of the learning process. Later for my PhD, I specifically chose my current field – developmental biology – for the rich imaging possibilities it offered. While I generate microscopy images of fluorescent flowers primarily for scientific purposes, I definitely spend more time on the microscope, trying to take aesthetically perfect pictures, than I need just to get answers to my biological questions. I also try to reach out to the public, not only to a scientific audience, with my pictures. My images won awards at microscopy and BioArt competitions like the Nikon Small World and FASEB BioArt contest. I also developed collaborations with musicians and artists to design the cover of a CD, and a digital art piece that was projected at the digital Nature exhibition at the LA County Arboretum in 2016.

These confocal microscopy images show Arabidopsis flower buds or inflorescences (stem bearing flower buds on its flanks), expressing fluorescent reporters for different genes and hormones. AP3: inflorescence with a fluorescent reporter for the APETALA3 gene (green), which promotes petal and stamen formation. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (purple). AP3 SUP: inflorescence with fluorescent reporter for the APETALA3 (green) and SUPERMAN (red) genes. SUPERMAN defines the boundary between stamens and pistil. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (grey). DRNL DR5: inflorescence with fluorescent reporter for the DORNROSCHEN-LIKE gene (green) and the auxin hormone(red), which interact to determine the position where floral organs (sepals, petals, stamens and pistil) form. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (grey). DRNL in ap1: inflorescence of the apetala1 mutant with a fluorescent reporter for the DORNROSCHEN-LIKE gene (green). The apetala1 mutant develops abnormal flowers lacking petals, and with leaves instead of sepals. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (red). PIN1: inflorescence with a fluorescent reporter for the PIN-FORMED1 gene (green), which transports the auxin hormone from cell to cell. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (purple). DII: inflorescence with a sensor for the auxin hormone; green marks the cells that lack auxin. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (purple). STM: inflorescence with a fluorescent reporter for theSHOOT MERISTEMLESS gene (cyan), which keeps cells in an undifferentiated state. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (red). CRC: flower bud with a fluorescent reporter for the CRABS CLAW gene (green), which controls the formation of the pistil. Cell walls were stained with propidium iodide (red). One of the sepals was removed to expose the floral organs underneath.

picture Diana Wehmeier

 

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