The ASCB meeting was vibrant and interesting, and I had the chance to talk to many of you. This year PLOS sponsored the Celldance videos and the lucky winners are Matthieu Piel (Curie Institute), Daniela Cimini (Virginia Tech) and Roberto Weigert (NIH, National Cancer Institute). Using the award, they were able to create three visually astonishing videos that you can watch here. We thought it would be fun to give you a personal insight into the making of the videos and the science behind them, so we approached the authors with three questions: What made them to submit their works for the Celldance award? Why was their work particularly suited to visual representation (and did the videos help to make their research more accessible to a broad audience)? And what did they learn with this experience that they could apply to future projects or teaching?
Matthieu Piel’s lab investigates how cells move through our bodies and manage to reach the areas where they’re needed on time. His lab wondered how cells can move so fast through spaces that are sometimes very narrow. The answer seems to be confinement. You can see in the video that when the cells feel constrained, they decrease their adhesion to the substrate and migrate very rapidly, aided by intracellular actin and the motor protein myosin II. Matthieu felt honoured to be invited to give a talk at the ASCB meeting and had been preparing an illustrated book for the general public about his research, along with his friend Renaud Chabrier, a cartoonist (see Featured Image at top, by Chabrier). “I had thought of a way of putting a nice and simple story together starting from the journey of a dendritic cell in the body,” says Piel. “The story was somehow ready in my head and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to make a movie.” He feels that visual representation helps to place their potentially quite specialised research in a larger context in a simple way that everybody can understand. “Our work is mostly based on live cell microscopy, so it is quite visual to start with!” he comments. Regarding the take-homes of this experience, he would like to finish his first book and perhaps launch a series of books about cells… He keeps dreaming: “There will be then a bigger cartoon book in a few years, or maybe an exhibition on cells at the Paris Science museum. A Pixar/Disney movie about cells! I love their movies… and why not a video game? Why not having some about cells instead of always shooting or fantasy games? The world inside us is as fascinating as the ones we built inside out heads.”
Daniela Cimini has always been fascinated by how cells are constantly dividing in our body at a rate of millions of cells per minute. In the video, her lab uses advanced microscopy techniques to observe cell division happening in real time; this involves a highly dynamic tug-of-war that pulls apart the genetic material contained in chromosomes to end up with two daughter cells, each containing an identical copy of our genes. But this process is not always fool-proof and in rare cases it goes awry, resulting in a lagging chromosome and a daughter cell with an incomplete set of genes. These errors can have terrible consequences if the daughter cells happen to be eggs or sperm that will develop one day into a baby. By observing cell division in real time, in living cells, the Cimini lab is better able to understand how these errors occur and to identify strategies for treatment and prevention. Considering how visual their work is, the lab is quite well versed on the use of videos to present their work to the general public, and in 2014 they presented an exhibit called “Cells alive! – How one cell becomes two, four, many” at the Virginia Science festival. They repeated this in the subsequent years. “It seemed to us that creating a Celldance video would represent a new step in our outreach efforts”, says Cimini. Chromosome movement and cell division can be fairly easily visualized by light microscopy, so their research is particularly suited for this kind of visual representation. “The other aspect of mitosis is that the process is very dynamic, thus it is not very convincing to say so while showing static cartoons,” say the authors. “Showing a video of a cell undergoing cell division conveys the concept much more clearly.” What have they learned from this experience? The lab plans to develop a permanent exhibit at the SEEDS (Seek Education, Explore, DiScover) Blacksburg Nature Center aimed at teaching school children about cell division. “Our Celldance video will be part of the collection of videos we are planning to use. This experience has taught us invaluable lessons on how to make our message engaging and accessible to a non-experts audience”, concludes Cimini.
Roberto Weigert’s lab studies the basic molecular mechanisms that regulate trafficking events in mammalian tissues, especially at the cell membrane. They use a very specialized microscopy (iSMIC, for intravital subcellular microscopy) to image these processes in live cells, and you can observe in the video what happens at the cell membrane when things go wrong and cancer arises. Celldance was a great opportunity for the lab to share their work not only with the scientific community, but also with the general public. “We took this opportunity to raise awareness on the imaging approach we have developed and to show that it is going to be a tremendous tool to study cell biology under physiological conditions,” says Weigert. “Video representation is the perfect approach for us to show, analyze, and understand our data. It has been a great experience and I would welcome other opportunities to speak about our science to an even wider audience.”
You can read more about the authors and the Celldance videos at the Official PLOS Blog.
Feature Image credit: Renaud Chabrier