New Year in Sydney

The grossest science story of 2014 | Day 129

Yesterday I featured the cutest science story of the year, but today it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Or mice, rather.

I’m not easily grossed out, particularly when it comes to learning about scientific research. As long as the method is sound and the value is there, even the most off-putting experiment can have merit in advancing human knowledge, technology, medicine, you have it.

However, to me this story – and particularly the pictures – pushed all the right buttons of disgust. I present to you…

The grossest science story of 2014

I wrote about translucency in animals fairly recently, and a friend who saw the photo of the glassfrog declared it somewhat repulsive. I was surprised by the reaction, but when I stumbled upon this study published in Cell I can see where they were coming from.

When scientists study mice organs microscopically, the euthanised creature needs to be dissected and sliced, and then studied piece by piece. That’s a really time-consuming process. Wouldn’t it be great if one could just turn the organs transparent, so the cells can be studied right where they are?

But mice are made of solid flesh, you’ll say.

They are – unless they are processed in a chemical treatment that renders them transparent. Earlier this year researchers at Caltech managed to do exactly that by removing the skin, treating the flesh with formaldehyde, and then pumping detergent through the circulatory system.

They ended up with gelatinous mouse-shaped blobs that look like this (sorry):

transparent mouse science
By Yang et al. 2014, Cell

Of course, this complicated procedure wasn’t done for any trivial purpose. The new technique has applications for mapping nervous systems to improve treatment for neurological disease, or clarify a human tissue biopsy to help detect cancer cells with larger accuracy.

So, overall – useful gelatinous mouse blobs. Thanks, science. And eww.

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