I feel terrible for being critical of this science story, but it annoyed me in a couple of ways. First, it’s kind of a cool idea — they’re using micro-CT to scan living insects in 3 dimensions, and then they can just fly through the tissues. Neat!
It’s also significant that they’re doing it on living animals that survive the procedure, so you can repeat it later, opening the door to longitudinal studies of developing tissues in individual animals.
But here’s what bugs (get it?) me about the story: the story is all about the wrong things. There’s a lot of fluffing of the institute that did it (it’s interdisciplinary!), chatter about how new all this is (micro-CT has been around for years, and anesthetizing insects with CO2 has been routine for decades, so no, it isn’t), and then there’s all the clueless bullshit scattered throughout. It starts this way:
Until now, insects have been too wriggly to make good subjects for scientists wanting to understand more about insect innards.
Wrong. Insects have been model systems for development and physiology for ages — if a reporter had come into any of the insect labs I worked with 30 or 40 years ago and announced that the research subjects were “too wriggly” for the work they were doing, they would have been quietly shooed away.
The team has managed to create spectacularly detailed, three-dimensional views of insects’ insides—without harming them in any way—by using carbon dioxide to place them into a state of temporary suspended animation.
That’s nice. The anesthesia is trivial, though. Say something about what they’ve learned.
And this is just irritating.
The resolution shows detail to 20 microns (about five times smaller than the width of a human hair) and clearly shows the organs, reproductive system and other internal morphology.
20 microns is also more than twice the size of a typical cell, 10 times larger than an axon, 200 times larger than a filopodium. This is pretty coarse. The stuff I’m interested in would require subcellular resolution, and this doesn’t even come close — but there are interesting questions that could be asked on the organ level, like how trachea develop, if only the damned article had bothered to ask any of them.
This kind of formless, clueless goo is typical of university PR departments, and phys.org, unfortunately. Science journalists need to be informed enough to ask the right questions and focus on the relevant science, rather than getting distracted by shiny buttons on the gadgets.