Old friends, new tools

Once upon a time, way back when I entered graduate school, the first big project I was involved in was essentially a morphological mapping of the circuitry of the larval zebrafish. We did lots of backfills of neurons with horseradish peroxidase, and later the fluorescent dye DiI, and then with injected lineage tracers like rhodamine dextran. I guess technology has greatly advanced, because we never got anything as pretty as this set of fluorescently labeled neurons in the brain and spinal cord of a larval zebrafish.

This image was made using brainbow fluorescent microscopy. Transgenic fish carry an assortment of fluorescent protein genes that are randomly flipped on in the cells to produce these multicolored views of a subset of the neurons. It’s like the good old Golgi silver stain, only in technicolor.


  1. Otto says

    Before reading any of the text, it totally looked like like a (sideways) elephant. Still fantastic, but a part of me is still wishing it were an elephant.

  2. Eric says

    “Old Friends, New Tools”…

    …that’s what I said when my friends from high school joined fraternities in college.

  3. bartkid says

    >we never got anything as pretty as this set of fluorescently labeled neurons in the brain and spinal cord of a larval zebrafish.

    With two strategic contractions that haikus quite elegantly (to me, anyway, my apologies):

    Fluor’scently label’d
    Neurons, brain, and spinal cord
    Larval zebrafish.

  4. Confused says

    Neat. I’d heard about the appallingly named “brainbow” about a year ago (on a Nature podcast), but I’d never actually seen an application.

  5. 'Tis Himself says

    horseradish peroxidase

    Not to be confused with paradimethyl honey mustard.

    i I’ll get my coat.

  6. rjb says

    Just saw this same image yesterday at the SFN meeting in DC. Josh Sanes gave a talk basically describing the development of Brainbow and its applications, which are admittedly few at the moment. Still, impressively beautiful pictures, and really cool science behind the development of the technique.

  7. S. Fisher says

    Have you neuroscientists no moral sense? First you hi-jack Gods handi-work in creating these so-called “trans-genic” fish, which is an obvious abomination, then you create these so-called “beautiful” images, obviously designed to draw in the minds of the youth of our nation in order to convert them to your materialist world view. Your whole “science” is only an effort to prove the non-existance of a soul by making “beautiful” sciency photographs of one of Gods’ creatures only in an effort to deny Him as the final Cause. Also, too.

  8. Jonny82 says

    Just letting readers know that Andor Technology plc are running a competition for the scientific community. $400 to the charity of your choice, will be awarded for the winning entry in the 2008 Christmas Card design contest, plus the opportunity to promote your work on wwwandor.com – Check out:

  9. artemia says

    I just wish I knew where I could get prints of some of those images, or even a calendar? Absolutely gorgeous stuff!

  10. Pdiff says

    Holy Bejeebus! That’s truly F’ing amazing!

    Why does God use such squiggly lines? Surely there must be some “intelligent” reason for it.


  11. recovering catholic says

    You know how it is when people feel sorry for you because you don’t believe in a god and therefore have lost all your sense of wonderment and appreciation for the universe’s beauty? This is the kind of picture I like to show them. What’s really funny is that they then usually can’t fathom MY excitement. I pity them.

  12. Jeanette says

    @artemia: Great idea! Science and science education would have an additional funding source if those images were made into calendars, posters, t-shirts, coffee mugs.

  13. Tristan says

    The other pictures from that competition were pretty crazy fantastic, too.

    Look at the first one. “Spike Walker” just has to be a pseudonym. Doesn’t it?

  14. Maybesomewinelater says

    I fail to understand how anyone could think that some guy called God is more interesting than that image and what the image is of (and how we know that this is an image of what it is, and how we captured that image). Oh, wait, I guess god-believers would simply say that this is evidence of that intelligent designer’s intelligence..they see god everywhere except for where it would actually prove god’s existence.

  15. Azdak says

    That image reminds me of one of the few concepts I’ve retained from my biopsych classes: axons wiring up according to chemical gradients, or, as the prof called it, the “Lick ‘n Sniff” approach. The cruder the mnemonic, the more effective it is…

  16. David Marjanović, OM says

    Nice. I can see the eyes! :-)


    Do you mean you normally pronounce the second e?!?

  17. JamesR says

    Just think of all of your peers and your own work which has contributed to this being the new standard. Fantastic. What will the next 30 years bring.

    S Fisher.
    I love sarcasm, keep it up you’re doing just fine.

  18. recovering catholic says


    Read S. Fisher’s post again, especially the last two words. I think you’ve been poed.

  19. Bacopa says

    I never bought this whole “atheists lack wonderment” thing. Where are awe and wonder for the theist? He believes that a being kinda like him made all this cool stuff to impress him. And there is no real wonder at all for the theist. “Goddidit” is the answer to everything.

    Most theists I know who know I am an atheist rely on arguments that ultimately boil down to “If there’s no God then how or why X?” They just don’t understand how my “I don’t know” is acceptable to me. Theists seem unable to tolerate wonder.

    Of course, sometimes I do know. Once someone argued that the perfect squareness of the inverse square law of gravity was proof of God. I explained that it was a simple consequence of 3-D geometry. We looked up the formula for the surface area of a sphere and noted that the area increased directly with the square of the radius. I explained that at any given distance the effect of gravity was spread out over the surface of a sphere, If we doubled that distance, the gravity was spread out over a sphere four times larger, and thus was only 1/4th as strong. I also pointed out that cosmologists had recently discovered that on some scales gravity didn’t seem to work exactly as an inverse square law. However, scientists had not generally abandoned the conventional law of gravity because of this. They proposed that there might be other forces at work, and that’s what all this “dark energy” talk is about.

  20. Ema says

    Ooh! This is exciting!

    I work in a lab characterizing a novel gene, so naturally we’ve used some GFP. Turns out my gene is expressed in mitochondria, probably the last place we’d expect it!

    All thanks to good ol’ GFP.

  21. says

    I just gotta put me one of these on a quilt!!!

    That and a spiral galaxy. But not together. Then again…

    Thanks for the pictures PZ, these truly are stunning.

    Recovering Catholic at #17, yup, they really just don’t get it.

    I’m going to show this one to the kidlets. Maybe even print it off to take to school. I’m hoping for shrieks of joy when we took them to the aquarium in Sydney.. my kids really do appreciate biological wonderments.

  22. says

    @Dave H:
    You want the horseradish?
    You can’t handle the horseradish!

    I love this image, but I’d feel better about it if someone, somewhere wasn’t thinking: “That’s so cool! Now what if we did that to a blue whale and put it in the Christmas display at the mall?!”

  23. Sili says

    that are randomly flipped on in the cells

    That doesn’t look particularly random to me.

    (Thank you, spammer, nice spam. NOT!)