BBSRC Science Photo Competition: That's One Strong Ant!

Science isn't just boring equations and such, as these winning photos from the BBSRC's inaugural Science Photo Competition shows.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the leading funding agency for academic research and training in the United Kingdom, asked its scientists to share images that are beautiful as they are informative taken in the course of everyday research work. As the winning photos show, not only do these researchers have a passion for their science, they've got a keen eye for beauty too!

Overall Winner - Weaver Ant Carrying Heavy Weight

Thomas Endlein, University of Cambridge

Photo: Thomas Endlein, University of Cambridge

Asian Weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) can carry weights of more than 100 times their own body weight whilst upside down on a smooth surface. To do this, they have incredibly sticky pads on their feet. However, this does not stop them from running quickly across such surfaces. Research has revealed how they cope with the conflict of sticking to a surface but not getting stuck.

Weaver ants are known for building nests using leaves woven together with silk. They are very territorial and their tendency to defend against intruders can make them a useful tool in controlling agricultural insect pests, avoiding the need for chemical insecticides. They have traditionally been used in this way in Chinese and Southeast Asian citrus orchards for at least 1,500 years.

Concepts Category Winner - A Larva's-Eye View of Tool Use

Jolyon Troscianko, University of Birmingham

Photo: Jolyon Troscianko, University of Birmingham

New Caledonian crows use stick tools for 'fishing' wood-boring beetle
larvae from their burrows in decaying tree trunks. They tease the larvae
by repeatedly poking them with a tool, encouraging them to defend themselves
and bite the tool-tip with their powerful mandibles. Once firmly attached
to the tool, the crows carefully withdraw the larvae from their deadwood
fortresses. Motion-triggered video cameras recently revealed that individual
crows may take years to become proficient at mastering the subtleties
of this extraction technique (Bluff et al. 2010, Proc. R. Soc. B). This
image is a still taken from film showing this unique predator-prey relationship
from the larva's perspective.

Concepts Category Runner Up - L106 Surfacing

Emma Foster, University of Leeds

Southern Resident killer whale in Puget Sound, USA. Photo: Emma Foster,
University of Leeds

To assess the health of an ecosystem you can look at the health of the
top predators in the environment - in this case, killer whales. The Southern
Resident killer whale population was classified as endangered in 2006.
It is important to increase public awareness of the threats facing these
whales and the measures people are going to, to conserve them.

Agriculture, Food, Diet and Health Category Winner - Diversity

Felicity Crotty, North Wyke Research

Mites (Acari), springtails (Collembola) and other insects
that were collected from a soil sample. Photo: Felicity Crotty, North
Wyke Research

Soil is one of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth and is
sometimes referred to as "the poor man's rainforest". The mites
and springtails shown here are some of the most abundant creatures found
in soil and they play vitally important roles as part of the food chain
in this environment.

Understanding the ecology of soil will be vital in meeting the challenge
of feeding 9 billion people worldwide by 2050.

Agriculture, Food, Diet and Health Category Runner Up - Going Up in

Rob Wüst, University of Leeds

Composite image showing tiny blood vessels from skeletal muscle as viewed
under a microscope, with smoke apparently weaving in between.

Photo: Rob Wüst, University of Leeds

Researchers are investigating the effects of smoking on how well muscles
work. Smokers may tend to experience tiredness in their muscles more easily
than people who do not smoke, which could be down to how much oxygen reaches
the muscle and how it is used once it gets there.

This work can also tell us about the fundamental relationships between
oxygen supply and utilisation in skeletal muscle tissue.

People Category Winner - Declining Salmon Abundance

Emma Foster, University of Leeds

A fisherman catching wild salmon in Puget Sound, USA. Photo: Emma Foster,
University of Leeds

Impacts from human beings such as urbanisation, fishing activities, dam
building, forestry, agriculture, mining and poor artificial breeding practices
have had a profound effect on the depletion of wild salmon stocks. Not
only does this affect the animals that rely on wild fish as their primary
food source, but also impacts the local fishing communities. Essential
research and recovery plans are being carried out.

People Category Runner Up - Theory and Practise

Marcus Fischer, University of York

A composite image of a researcher working with a pipette and small tube
with a sheet of equations overlaid. Photo: Marcus Fischer, University
of York

Harmony of theoretical and practical research is almost a form of art.
Recognising the importance of integrating both is likely to induce a paradigm
change towards an awareness for interdisciplinary research. For example,
in drug discovery classical 'one gene = one disease' viewpoints are starting
to be replaced by holistic systems biology approaches. Using this approach
it is possible to design promiscuous drugs to tackle multifactorial diseases
such as cancer.

Highly commended images

Eva Thuenemann, John Innes Centre, Norwich, 'The Green Vaccine

Photo: Eva Thuenemann, John Innes Centre

In recent years, virus-like particles have found many uses in basic research,
nanotechnology and medicine. In particular, these non-infectious virus-resembling
scaffolds can be used as inherently safe and effective vaccines. We are
developing methods to allow expression and assembly of these complex structures
in plant leaves. In future, plants may offer a cost-effective alternative
for the production of virus-like particles.

James Berridge, Oxford University, 'TIRF Macroscopy'

James Berridge, Oxford University

This macro-Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence microscope allows the
real-time analysis of membrane proteins in an array of artificial lipid
bilayers. In this photo the laser is being aligned and a sample is fluorescing
as a result of excitation.

Philippa Hawes, Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright, 'Crimson

Philippa Hawes, Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright

Confocal image of chicken gut epithelium, labelled with an antibody against
the cytoskeletal protein, tubulin. The sample is a 70µm section
cut using a vibrating microtome and fluorescently labelled. Previous techniques
used to image tissue sections have had to compromise on either antigenicity
or structure but using this technique we are able to achieve both.

Oliver Smith, University of Warwick HRI, 'Glasshouse'

Oliver Smith, University of Warwick HRI

Students check on live experiments in a glasshouse at Warwick HRI. A
small army of young researchers are given studentships each year; considering
the importance of agricultural research for the future wellbeing of the
planet, finding the right people for the job is absolutely imperative.

David Smith, University of Dundee, 'Potato Genome'

David Smith, University of Dundee

The potato is one of the most economically important crops in the UK.
Each year over £40M of potatoes are ruined through parasite spoilage.
Sequencing the potato genome is key to developing new strains that show
disease and drought resistance. A draft copy of the genome has been prepared
through next generation sequencing, though the sequence in the photograph
was prepared through lower tech but more laborious means.

Tom Benians, University of Leeds Centre for Plant Sciences, 'Immunolabelling
of Cotton Fibres'

Tom Benians, University of Leeds Centre for Plant Sciences

The cotton fibre, one of the most important crop products in the world,
is a single cell that grows up to 6.5 cm from the seed coat epidermis,
making it one of nature's longest cells. It is nearly 97% cellulose, and
it is the highly crystalline structure of this polysaccharide which is
responsible for its strength. In this photo, 50 day old Gossypium hirsutum
cotton fibres were labelled with monoclonal antibodies bound to fluorescein
(FITC), with specificity to hemicelluloses on the fibre surface. Calcofluor
is used to stain cellulose and is seen in blue.

Ben Gazur, University of Edinburgh, 'Hoverflies'

Ben Gazur, University of Edinburgh

This photo shows a hoverfly on a flower and another in flight. This represents
the insect flight paths underpinning the science of pollination and the
resulting genetic variation.

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