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Meet our student-artists: Tia Daniels

I am Tia Daniels, a senior biology major at Tuskegee University. This is my first year in the Vi4 AIR Program. This year, I’ve partnered with Dr. Antentor Hilton’s lab for my project. His research focuses on utilizing serial-block face scanning electron microscopes (SBF-SEM) and focused ion beam scanning electron microscopes (FIB-SEM) to “investigate the molecular mechanisms that regulate molecule transfer and morphology changes” in the mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). In addition, Dr. Hinton’s lab analyzes how these mechanisms involved in molecule transfer and morphology are altered during “pathophysiological states diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease." For my project, I read two published journal articles entitled “Systematic Transmission Electron Microscopy-Based Identification and 3D Reconstruction of Cellular Degradation Machinery” and “A Comprehensive Approach to Sample Preparation for Electron Microscopy and the Assessment of Mitochondrial Morphology in Tissue and Cultured Cells”.

The first article analyses and explores the method of high-resolution electron microscopy, which Hinton used to visualize the mitochondria’s molecular structure. Mitochondria is responsible for generating energy for cellular functions. Without the mitochondria, eukaryotic cells can’t produce energy. The number of mitochondria depends on fusion/fission proteins. When physiological changes occur in the mitochondria, it forms branching networks called nanotunnels and mitochondria-on-a-string (MOAS). These structures are crucial for communication and protecting the mitochondria from degradation. Hypoxic stress is a prerequisite for their formation. Hinton’s lab developed an optimized protocol for handling specimens that “preserves mitochondrial morphology in cells and tissue for EM evaluation.” By creating an optimized protocol, researchers can save time and resources in the future and produce high-quality data for their research.

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is an imaging technique that produces two-dimensional, high-quality images by shooting electrons through a thin sample. The image produced is affected by the sample’s composition and thickness. Using TEM is beneficial if one seeks to study the microscopic composition of a sample – such as mitochondria. Hinton’s lab uses TEM to depict micrographs of various auto-hoagie components of a cell, such as autophagosomes and autolysosomes. While researchers and students alike may find TEM useful, there are cons to this technique. As mentioned earlier, TEM only produces 2D micrographs of a sample, which does not accurately represent the sample’s composition. In order to capture accurate 3D images of organelles, the serial block face-scanning technique (SBF-SEM) was utilized. Even though SBF-SEM costs more money and time, the results are far better than the 2D mirror graphs generated by TEM.

In order to properly capture autophagy in a cell, one must understand the structural differences between each organelle, and how to spot them in an image. The organelles involved in cell degradation have assorted conformations, which makes distinguishing them quite difficult. Lysosomes vary in size and location, as intracellular physiological changes (I.e. change in pH) cause them to relocate within the cell. Their membranes are ordered and lysosomal enzymes appear darker in images. Autophagosomes also vary in the number of membranes, but typical features include a second membrane, inner recycled ribosomes, and more circular shapes. Some autophagosomes resemble large lysosomes because of limited cargo, limiting membranes could be used to distinguish them from regular lysosomes. These two organelles, lysosomes and autophagosomes, are examples of what to look for when evaluating a TEM image.

Since Dr. Hinton’s lab focused on creating complex 2D and 3D imagery through SBF-SEM and TEM, my project will center around these images. I plan on creating clothing pieces using his images, and transforming them from mere images on paper to wearable clothing pieces. My hope is that whenever someone sees the clothing, they will ask questions regarding the images and their meaning. Quite often, people associate science communication with traditional mediums like presentations or social media posts. While these are effective in relaying research, what better way to deliver a message than through fashion? As a lover of fashion and model, I hope to build a new bridge between science communication and art through fashion.

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