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Jun 18 2014

un-biotic

Isn’t this an amazing image?

Looks like a living horror to me!

I saw this on Twitter, and had to talk about it.  I am impressed that this can be an electron photograph. It has color and shadow. How?  I wouldn’t have thought that possible. But most amazing is what it is, a T4 bacteriophage, a virus which infects E.coli.  Why is that impressive? Well, look at it!  Before this alien lander touched down on this cell, it was a virion, a completely static entity, an inert device in the “off” position.  Once the legs contact the ‘active sites’, it logically activates, just like a space probe; it ‘switched on’. What it does then is insidious.

The way it drills into the cell, so mechanical, so cold.  Just like a robotic probe, a mere machine.  The thing is, these things are not alive.  They’re genetic, they reproduce, they evolve, and they can even be killed, -yet they do not qualify as living organisms.  They’re so very close to that, and they certainly look the part.  Many even have DNA.  But they can’t achieve homeostasis.  They can’t maintain an internal chemical balance, and that is what defines an organism as living. This thing however, this alien invader -is a supra-complex macromolecular nanite mite, existing right at the edge of being ‘alive’.

I don’t know; I just find some concepts fascinating.  Had to share.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Al Dente

    Cool!

  2. 2
    Trebuchet

    Cool? No. That’s about the most terrifying thing I ever saw.

  3. 3
    L.Long

    Before photoshop microscopist had imaging modification software on their minicomputers. Since photoshop things have just gotten better and easier. Which has brought its own problems. 20yr SEM operator and image manipulator. But manipulation of SEM images is VERY frowned upon when used as evidence for any reason but for mag articles and fun they can be striking. These images were done by a very skilled operator and manipulator.

  4. 4
    ThorGoLucky

    The best and creepiest depiction of a virus that I has ever seen. Life is a human concept; it’s just all varying degrees of chemistry, from rust to crystals to viruses to single cells to multicellular thingies, no?

  5. 5
    Kate

    Actually, that is *not* a real EM photo; it’s a still from an animation done by a medical research company. This is a real EM photo of a T4: http://www.mansfield.ohio-state.edu/~sabedon/em_t4.gif

    Scary enough in reality.

    (I had seen the same tweet, and was dubious due to the extreme detail and crispness, so spent a few hours learning about T4s on the intertubes last night.)

  6. 6
    Kate

    It’s by a medical animator named Mike Smith; here’s a demo of his stuff: http://t.co/Hx1iQqYiCI

  7. 7
    NDDave

    My first thought on seeing the picture was ‘Tripod!’, my second was the opening line from War of the Worlds:

    “No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

  8. 8
    davidnangle

    It is fascinating that SEM images can show 3 dimensions with soft shadows just like a B&W photograph: http://www.byteland.org/fireflysem/photuris_sp_210386a.jpg

    http://www.byteland.org/fireflysem/Photinus_pyralis_210346a.jpg

    But these viruses are so small, all that’s possible is a very grainy TEM image with no apparent 3-dimensionality.

  9. 9
    BCat70

    These T4s have always struck me as being obsenely mechanical. The shape is so precisley like a small space probe, I can easily imagine a scifi story about Evil NASA™ manufacturing ‘viriprobes’ that actually attack satellites, spaceships and stations.

    On the other hand, I am unaware of a creationist that has brought these up in an intellegent design argument. I wonder why that is?

  10. 10
    adean.edwards

    You have a debate with OFNF, why not tap the greatest collected demonstration for evolution since the Scopes trial? Kitzmiller v Dover, the collection of evidence which convinced a Bush appointee that evolution was as solid as gravity. I put a couple links to the trial transcript below this message,

    http://ncse.com/book/export/html/11798

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/kitzmiller_v_dover.html

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