Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: An Elegant Design

Credit: David Sleboda and Thomas Roberts, Brown University, Providence, RI

Over the past few years, my blog has highlighted winners from the annual BioArt contest sponsored by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). So, let’s keep a good thing going with one of the amazing scientific images that captured top honors in FASEB’s latest competition: a scanning electron micrograph of the hamstring muscle of a bullfrog.

That’s right, a bullfrog, For decades, researchers have used the American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, as a model for studying the physiology and biomechanics of skeletal muscles. My own early work with electron microscopy, as a student at Yale in the 1970s, was devoted to producing images from this very tissue. Thanks to its disproportionately large skeletal muscles, this common amphibian has played a critical role in helping to build the knowledge base for understanding how these muscles work in other organisms, including humans.

Revealed in this picture is the intricate matrix of connective tissue that holds together the frog’s hamstring muscle, with the muscle fibers themselves having been digested away with chemicals. And running diagonally, from lower left to upper right, you can see a band of fibrils made up of a key structural protein called collagen.

The image is the work of David Sleboda, a graduate student in the lab of Thomas Roberts at Brown University, Providence, RI. Sleboda studies muscle physiology, with a focus on how muscles specialize to perform different tasks. A classic example is one that joggers probably know well. Certain leg muscles act as motors to propel the body uphill, while others act as brakes to slow the downward descent.

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.