Science

Remarkable images show the intricacy and beauty of common plants

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The minute details of the roots of Arabidopsis thaliana

Jan Martinek

Photographer Jan Martinek

THESE are plants like you have never seen them before. Vibrant, diverse and possessing an almost microbe-like quality, these images of plant cells were taken by Jan Martinek at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.

As a plant cell biologist, Martinek is interested in the mechanisms that allow cells to shape themselves into the distinctive structures seen here. “Many of the images that I captured during my research also have some aesthetic qualities, so… I decided to share them on my Instagram account to promote science to the public,” he says.

His account, @plant_microverse, showcases the intricacy and beauty of plant cells and molecules using mainly fluorescence microscopy. This employs fluorescent dyes and specific wavelengths of light to illuminate cells and molecules – making what is normally invisible suddenly visible, says Martinek.

ImageJ=1.53p. Plant microverse. Hollyhock (Alcea) pollen grain stained with acridine orange and calcofluor white, under the confocal microscope

A hollyhock pollen grain viewed using a confocal microscope

Jan Martinek

The main image above shows the minute details of the roots of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small weed that is widely used as a model organism in research, for example in the study of genetics. The second image above is a hollyhock pollen grain viewed using a confocal microscope, a kind of fluorescence microscopy that maximises optical resolution and contrast.

The following images show cross-sections that reveal the inner “plumbing” of two plants: the rhizome – an underground stem from which roots and shoots protrude – of a common reed is shown below

Plant microverse. cross-section through the rhizome of Phragmites. In this picture, you can see typical vascular bundles of grasses resembling faces. The ?eyes?are actually vessels of the xylem. This part of the vascular bundle is made from dead cells with thick cell walls, forming hollow ?pipes? responsible for the transport of water and minerals through the plant. The green part of the bundle is the phloem, made of living, responsible for the transport of sugars made in the process of photosynthesis. Autofluorescence in UV excitation light.

The rhizome of a common reed

Jan Martinek

The hollow stalk of a barley plant is shown below. The fluorescent blue indicates lignin, a polymer that provides the “backbone” for plant cell walls, and the red marks areas of active photosynthesis.

Plant microverse. Cross-section through the Hordeum grass. The ring in the middle is a culm ? a typical hollow stalk of the grass. It is very stiff, you can see that almost all of the cells have cell walls reinforced by lignin with blue autofluorescence. On the outside, there is a leaf wrapped around the stalk. Red autofluorescence shows photosynthetically active tissue with chlorophyll content. Autofluorescence in UV light, focus stacking.

The hollow stalk of a barley plant

Jan Martinek



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