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08 February 2023

Dancing Bones

While scientists and artists often learn from bringing their disciplines together, sometimes they can stand back and let the science create the art. These microtubules are bendy 'bone-like' protein structures usually found propping up the cell’s cytoskeleton – but inside this wheel-shaped channel, they appear to dance. Adapting their movement to this new environment, they take on a liquid swirl like noodles in a pan (although 10,000 times smaller). This is a striking example of active matter – the microtubules synchronise themselves into waves of movement similar to collective behaviour seen in swarms and shoals elsewhere in nature. Controlling such fluids may be a way to extract energy from their motion, which may open the way to drive tiny motors and engines inside or outside our cells.

Written by John Ankers

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What is BPoD?

BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.