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'Completely hypnotic' donut of cell scaffolding swirls endlessly in mesmerizing new video

A GIF of microtubules spinning in a donut-shaped channel from the "Photosensitive active nematic layer confined in an annular channel" video at the Nikon Small World in Motion competition.
A GIF of microtubules spinning in a donut-shaped channel from the "Photosensitive active nematic layer confined in an annular channel" video at the Nikon Small World in Motion competition. (Image credit: Ignasi Vélez-Ceron, Dr. Jordi Ignés & Dr. Francesc Sagués)

A "donut" of mesmerizing, cell-forming microtubules moving in sync is among the top entries in Nikon's annual microscopic video competition. 

Microtubules are proteins that make up the skeleton of a cell. Their movement is normally chaotic, but when restricted to a circular channel, they begin moving together and organize themselves into a coherent flow, according to Ignasi Vélez-Ceron, a doctoral candidate who filmed the video with his colleagues in the Department of Material Science and Physical Chemistry at the University of Barcelona in Spain. 

In the video, fluorescent microtubules move in synchronized waves around the channel, which is shaped like a donut with a hole in the middle. The film shows how small structures work together in collective behavior. 

"I have been involved in the study of the microtubule movement in this system for 3 years and I was exulting and awed when we managed to confine our material and we obtained this awesome video," Vélez-Ceron told Live Science in an email. "Furthermore, I found that the movement of the material is completely hypnotic, spinning endlessly."

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The microtubules "donut" video took fifth place at the Nikon Small World in Motion competition on Sept. 13. The competition is made up of films and time-lapse photographs captured using microscopes. 

"During my daily work, I am used to see[ing] very beautiful phenomena through the microscope, and this contest allowed me to share them with people," Vélez-Ceron said.

The winning entry of the 2022 competition was a time-lapse video of cells migrating in a developing zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryo over a period of eight hours, according to a statement released by Nikon (opens in new tab).

A panel of judges assessed each entry on originality, informational content, technical proficiency and visual impact. A 12-hour time-lapse of cultured monkey cells took second place in the competition, while a video of sea anemone neurons and stinging cells took third place. 

The judges also gave honorable mentions to 25 other entries, including those of a cell going through division, a holographic tardigrade shuffling around, and a time-lapse of a Hydra devouring a water flea (Daphnia pulex). Hydra are a group of age-defying jellyfish-like invertebrates that constantly replace their cells with new ones, making the creatures biologically immortal, Live Science previously reported. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Patrick Pester
Staff Writer

Patrick Pester is a staff writer for Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.