Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: Arabidopsis Art

Credit: Nathanaël Prunet, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

Modern sculptors might want to take a few notes from Mother Nature. The striking, stone-like forms that you see above are a micrograph of flower buds from the mustard plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which serves as an important model organism in biomedical research. In the center are the shoot apical meristems, consisting of undifferentiated stem cells (gray) that give rise to the flowers. Around the edge are buds that are several hours older, in which the flowers have just begun to form off of the shoot apical meristems. And, to the bottom left, are four structures that are the early sepals that will surround the fully formed flower that will bloom in a few weeks. The colored circles indicate areas of gene activity involved in determining the gender of the resulting flower, with masculinizing genes marked in green and feminizing in red.

This image, a winner in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2015 BioArt competition, is the creation of postdoctoral student Nathanaёl Prunet, now in the NIH-supported lab of Elliot Meyerowitz at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA. Using scanning electron microscopy, Prunet snapped multiple 2D photographs of Arabidopsis buds at different tissue depths and computationally combined them to produce this 3D image.

Arabidopsis, which was the first plant to have its genome sequenced back in 2000, has been used by biological researchers for decades to study pattern formations in development. Like humans, many plants start as a single fertilized cell. As that cell divides, its cellular progeny differentiate into various types of cells in a highly patterned way that, if all goes according to plan, produces all of the right flower parts in all of the right positions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.