The following picture was making the rounds this week on FB
My first reaction was to smile, of course.
Then I thought, wait a second, those are not cells. I can’t recognize any organelles in any of those “happy cells”. Cells are a beautiful thing, but they don’t really have anything that looks like a mouth or eyes. At least not the symmetrical, human kind. I mean, Picasso would have been able to see a face there, I’m sure. But not a smiley one.
And me being me -annoying, that is, immediately got to the task of deciphering the mystery.
One of the things that bothers me greatly about the 54,829 gorgeous photographs that are shared every day on FB pages is that most of them pages don’t bother to double check for the source. But if one is motivated enough and lucky enough, finding it is not that difficult. Of course, one also needs to have a lot of free time on one’s hands.
A preliminary search took me to a Reddit thread where I discovered that the cells in question were from marram grass. Brilliant.
Then it was just a matter of googling that et voilà, some ten minutes later, I had what appears to be the original source of the picture, a post from June 25, 2009 in a blog called BEYOND THE HUMAN EYE, kept by one Phil Gates, a botanist at Durham University in the UK.
Mesdames et Messieurs I give you, The Dune Buider:
And here is a detail of the first picture, with further magnification
From the blog post:
The two big ‘eyes’ in this ‘smiley face’ (which is typical of a monocot vascular bundle) are metaxylem elements that transport water through the leaf. The bright blue fluorescence in the ‘mouth’ of the ‘smiley face’ is phloem, composed of larger sieve tubes and smaller rectangular (in cross section) companion cells, which together transport sugars, made by photosynthesis, out of the leaf. The bright yellow cells forming the neck of the ‘smiley face’ are lignified, providing a measure of rigidity in the leaf, and the band of cells along the bottom of the section are epidermal cells covered by a cuticle.
So, technically, yes, there are cells there. But it is not like each one of the happy faces is a cell but rather, each happy face is made of many cells. Different colours mean different types of cells. And the eyes and smiles are the leaf equivalents to our veins (xylem and floem), that take the nutrients made by the red cells to the rest of the plant. Neat, eh?.
I love science!
The moral of the story?
- Apparently I have a lot of time on my hands.
- Yes, I am that annoying geek.
- Science rocks!.
- Can’t stand it when people take other people’s work and don’t give them credit.
- Hmmm what if I start trolling FB pages and… Nah. Then I’d have to do the same with Tumblr blogs, Pinterest boards, etc…
- There isn’t really a moral for this story.
- Ruby would be very proud of me.
- I don’t understand why it took 4 years for this lovely picture to become [somewhat] viral.
- Look at the happy faces again and smile! Have a great weekend.
- Oh, and by the way, my blog has a new theme. Smiiiiiiiiile!.
* Many thanks to Dad Knows for alerting me on the existence of the picture! I had a great time finding the source. Smile!