Archive for the ‘cells’ Category

BioBus—Divide, Embryo, Divide!

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Prof. Mark Allegro, at MBL in Woods Hole, decided to help the BioBus capture live cell division on film Wednesday, July 13, 2011!

The video can be viewed here:


This synchronized proliferation of cells is the beginning of life. In the video, what appears to be a round boundary starts out filled by two seemingly-large, but really microscopic, cells. This boundary, and its contained cells, is what make up an embryo, or the first sign of a living thing after an egg is fertilized. That ball is really just the beginnings of a baby…sea urchin. Well, that sea urchin must have some very proud parents, because the BioBus has decided to use it as an example depicting the early development of practically all organisms: “Look, that’s my developing urchin on TV!”

While the video made the division of these cells appear to only take a few seconds,  in reality the event was recorded over the span of an hour and was sped up for our enjoyment. If you pay close attention to the embryo, you will see that the cells making up the embryo keep getting smaller as they divide. They have to do this to divide as fast as they do. They cannot just stop to refill on cell juice (a.k.a. cytosol), or other parts just yet! So, they divide a few hundred more times until the cells are extremely numerous and tiny, then they reorganize themselves in specific shapes, and they grow in size by taking in nutrients.  The subsequent embryonic divisions and reorganization of cells actually precede the formation of something more universally recognizable: a fetus, or a baby.


—Jordan Sutphen

SciTech Education Camp—BioBus Style

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011 was a distinct day for the little scientist going to SciTech Education Camp, a summer camp hosted by the New York Junior League. On that day, they were scheduled for an entertaining visit by New York’s very own BioBus! As they came to class, they were greeted by bona fide volunteer scientists (Clare Walton from Rockefeller) who came to help both Dr. Ben Dubin-Thaler (BioBus founder) and Sarah Weisberg (Dr.Ben’s good friend and co-conspirator) with their lesson for the day.

So, at about 9:00 the kiddies arrived in pairs of two—holding hand as they navigated the roads of Manhattan—looking more like scientists than the actual ones in their stylish white lab coats. When they arrived with their minders, they were instantly greeted by Sarah Weisberg. She was the one who would be doing the teaching for the day! She ushered them to the street curb and started

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the lesson off with a tour of the BioBus’ exterior. Ms. Weisberg explained to them how the BioBus worked without being “plugged into a wall,” as some of the children put it, by pointing out some of its fascinating features, such as its solar panels and turbine. Then it was off to one of the lakes in Central Park, where the students collected samples of water, and a few creepy-crawlies, using high-tech standard equipment (pipettes and test tubes). They then went back to the BioBus to view their findings under some of the BioBus’ famous research-grade microscopes. There, the kids discovered that there were, in fact, organisms smaller than “ants!”

They saw demonstrations on how to use that equipment and

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then got to use it themselves! Many stared open-mouthed at a daphnia found in the water samples as they viewed its twitching body parts and beating heart! Some even believed they witnessed some unknown flagellated microorganism race across the microscope screen. The day was a long one for the little scientists though, so it was cut short when they left to return to their class on aching feet. Then, after the microscopes were packed up, the turbine was taken down, and everything was sorted out by Ben and Sarah, the bus took off and revved down the street—on to its next stop at its next gig: the local deli. Hey, scientists have to eat too.

—Jordan Sutphen

Stephen Colbert visits the BioBus!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Stephen, Ben, and Latasha discussing the lab procedures involved in imaging white blood cells

Stephen, Ben, and Latasha discuss lab procedure

Last Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Colbert stepped on the BioBus to have his cells “immortalized.” Using the same research microscopes we use to teach thousand students a year aboard the BioBus, I captured several time-lapse videos of Colbert’s crawling white blood cells. Working on-location outside underprivileged schools in the Bronx and across the country is our specialty – this time we just happened to be outside the studios of the Colbert Report! I was assisted by two BioBus Visiting Scientists, Lynn Biderman of Columbia Univ. and Latasha Wright of Cornell Medical Center, who are adept at getting celebrities and BioBus students alike excited about science. Thanks for your help,

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Lynn and Latasha.

We were rewarded for our work with front row seats to last nights screening of the Colbert Report. The videos we captured using the high-power microscopes and digital cameras aboard the BioBus were featured in an interview segment on last night’s show. Mr. Colbert interviewed Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book discussing ‘immortality’ found in the unauthorized harvesting and reproduction of cells from an African-American tobacco farmer in 1951. Those cells can now be found in labs across the country, and have been used for genetic research ranging from mapping the human genome to finding a cure for cancer. Though I did not immortalize Colbert’s living cells (one of the issues the book deals with is the legality of keeping someone’s cellular materiel), he captured them in another way that may last even longer! Check out the clip below, and remember, while getting a mention of TV is nice, we need support from you to keep the BioBus rolling.

The Colbert Report
Rebecca Skloot

Beat It!

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

BioBus spent the day at the Beczak Environmental Center yesterday. The center is on the banks of the Hudson River, where you can gaze across the frigid, brackish waters to the ice covered cliffs of the Palisades across the way. The center focuses on the ecology and geology of the Hudson River, and they have a set of super cool hands-on activities that allow students to explore and learn about the environment.

They invited the BioBus there to work with two of their student groups, and we had a lot of fun checking out various crustaceans and protists. Check out one of the movies the students made of a paramecium, where you can see lots of beating cilia

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and chunky organelles inside:

And if you have time, please join us later today (Saturday, Feb 20) at the Williamsburg Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The BioBus will be there from 12-1:30 putting on a special program for Green Apple Kids, but people of all ages are welcome to stop by!


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

The BioBus visited the amazing Solar1 today! If you live in NYC and haven’t been there before, it is at 23rd Street right on the East River and you should definitely visit. They have a beach!! And a building with a

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roof entirely made of solar panels. Thanks Colin and Chris for bringing the bus in there. With their help I am going to develop a renewable energy and ecology curriculum for the BioBus.

Gabriella's Beautiful Micrograph

Gabriella's Beautiful Micrograph

While there, we had some very nice visitors. First Tim, an NYU ecology student, Susan, a teacher at the Columbia School, and Joan and her daughter Gabriella, a student

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at the Earth School, came for a tour of the bus. Gabriella already had her microscope operator’s license, and she jumped right in, showing us the different parts of the microscope and then taking some very nice images of DNA and cytoplasm of some cells. One of her images is shown here.

Colin then gave me a tour of the park, which, as

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I mentioned, has a beach! It is really beautiful and when the tide is low the beach is even bigger and nicer, according to Colin. When we got back to the bus, John, a teacher at City-As-School, along with a group of his students, were checking out the bus. They had been on a walking tour of the city, and heard the rumor that the BioBus was in town, so they stopped by. We had a really nice conversation about the history of the project and then toured the lab and watched some cell movies. If I am lucky some of those students might do an internship with the BioBus, which would be very neat. I was really impressed by how nice that group of students were, I really hope that some of them get involved with the project.

Colin and Tim Looking at the Receding Cloud Front

Colin and Tim Looking at the Receding Cloud Front

Frederick Douglas Academy III

Friday, December 12th, 2008

The BioBus just finished an amazing week at FDA III in the Bronx. On the first day, we brought all of the 10th grade students through

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the bus. The rest of the week we brought interested students from the first day back to the bus for a day of lab work. In the lab work we had two major goals – first, to figure out the nature of the bright spots in the hoechst labeling (labels DNA) of our fixed cells, and second to identify and make movies of some locally collected cells. For now, I will post one image and one movie, but soon I will make a new page with all of the hypotheses and data that the students came up with over the week.

Hoechst (DNA, blue) and phalloidin (actin cytoskeleton, green)

Hoechst (DNA, blue) and phalloidin (actin cytoskeleton, green). Sample prep by Tomas, microscopy by Wilson & analysis by Bo and Chris.

Dividing Bacteria from Crotona Park Pond. (Movie is in real time). Made by Princess and Taccara (P&T Productions).

First Fluorescence

Friday, December 5th, 2008

No, I’m not talking about the birth of food production in the Fertile Crescent (can you tell I’ve been reading Guns, Germs, and Steel?), I’m talking about the first digital images of fluorescence taken on the BioBus. The generous donations of a camera from Edmund Optics along with a lens adapter from Olympus have enabled us to start making still pictures, time-lapse sequences, and video-rate movies of cells. Below is one of the first composite images I took with the camera. Composite means that the picture is actually two images added together: the blue shows where DNA is and the green shows filaments of actin protein. These filaments form a spider’s web-like network in the cell’s cytoplasm that allow the cell to do things like move and eat. Each blob of blue is the DNA of a different cell. Do you count 6 separate blobs?

Green actin with blue DNA

Green actin with blue DNA

The microscope slide I used to make this picture was donated to the BioBus by

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Tomas Perez at Columbia University. Tomas uses fluorescently labeled cells in his research to let him track the whereabouts of certain proteins inside the cell. For instance, in the above image you see that the blue stained DNA is located at the center of the green-stained cytoplasmic network of actin. Do you know why DNA stays in the center of the cell and doesn’t spread out into the cytoplasm? Hint: it starts with the letter ‘N’.

These cells came from petri dishes that Tomas keeps full of so called ‘immortalized’ mouse cells. Immortalized means that these cells can grow forever on a petri dish, without ever needing to be in a mouse again! Tomas then chemically ‘froze’ or fixed the cells in place, after which he stained the cell with special chemicals designed to recognize only certain cell structures (in this case the structures of DNA and actin filaments) and make them glow. This is like putting fluorescent colored clothes on certain parts of the cell and then shining a black light on it, like you might do at a party! And believe me, cells CAN dance.

Our ability to take digital fluorescent images is also exciting since we are working on a grant to fund building a large library of fixed and stained samples for the BioBus in order to see all the different organelles and structures (like mitochondria and ribosomes). We can also look for differences between cells from different places. Perhaps student-researchers aboard the BioBus will discover a difference between cancer and non-cancerous cells? It’s not impossible.

If you are a scientist and you have fluorescently-labeled samples you would like to donate to the BioBus, please contact me ( We currently have filter cubes for UV, GFP, and Rhodamine excitable dyes.