Microscopes and movie cameras: Celldance celebrates the art that underlies the work January 04, 2011 Alison DuffyUMass Medical School Communications
Karl F. Lechtreck
Though he’s never been to Hollywood, Karl F. Lechtreck, PhD, research assistant professor of cell biology, is now a famous movie maker—at least among his fellow cell biologists. Lechtreck shared second place in the American Society for Cell Biology’s (ASCB) annual Celldance, a video and photo contest that focuses on “the art that underlies the work cell biologists do every day.” A good-natured spoof of the well-known Sundance Film Festival, which captures the attention of movie makers and movie lovers every January, Celldance celebrates the unexpected and unique beauty and art found under the microscope by cell biologists and seeks to “open the eyes of the world to the best video and still images that illuminate the wonders of cell biology.” Some of the publicity and chatter behind Celldance is tongue-in-cheek and riddled with science jokes (each year the posters calling for entries focus on a Hollywood theme but add a science twist: This year it was “Brokeback Mitochondria: True Tales of the Wild, Wild Western Blot”). But the winning photos and videos themselves are, according to the ASCB, “visually engaging and scientifically important.” Unveiled at the annual meeting of the ASCB in Philadelphia, the winners are eye catching and capture a moment of beauty in biology.
Although less than 10 seconds long, Lechtreck’s videos—“Motion of Ependymal Cilia” and “Ciliary Motility in the Mouse Airway Epithelium”—are as mesmerizing to the lay viewer as they are illuminating to the cell biologist. Lechtreck and his colleague George B. Witman, PhD, the George F. Booth Chair in the Basic Sciences and professor of cell biology, are studying the motion of cilia. Defects in ciliary motion result in primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), an inherited disease that causes patients to suffer chronic airway infections due to an inability to clear fluid, bacteria and debris. They have found that, in animal models, an impairment of ciliary motion also results in hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid within the cranium, suggesting that the beating of cilia is required to ensure proper fluid flow through the brain’s ventricular system, as it is for clearing the airways. Seeking to observe the motion of cilia in both environs, the researchers collaborated with Michael Sanderson, PhD, professor of physiology, who has built a differential interference contrast (DIC) microscope capable of filming at 200 frames per second. When slowed to 10 frames per second, the videos show the cilia bending and waving in a beautifully coordinated slow-motion dance.