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Victorian Wallpaper in Your Lungs

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Lung Surfactant image © The Biophysical Society.

No William Morris didn’t design this 18th century simulacrum – it’s “a microscopic image of lung surfactant, a lipid-protein material that aids in respiration by reducing the amount of energy needed”. And it’s elegantly fantastic.

In a recent issue of BioMedical Beat, authors Prajnaparamita Dhar, Elizabeth Eck, Jacob N. Israelachvili, Dong Woog Lee, Younjin Min, Arun Ramachandran, Alan J. Waring, and Joseph A. Zasadzinski presented a paper about a lung surfactant (mixture of lipids and proteins) that helps reduce the amount of energy required to reinflate the lungs. Pictured above, is what happens to the surfactant when carbon nanoparticles are inhaled. Check the article itself for some polka-dotted examples.

From the issue’s summary:

Using microscopy techniques, the researchers captured a snapshot of the changes that occur (black) when surfactant molecules are stressed by carbon nanoparticles. The scientists found that if inhaled, carbon nanoparticles could influence the function of the main lipid component of surfactant. A likely gateway for nanoparticles to enter the body is through the lungs, so this and future studies may help scientists improve drug delivery methods.

Shockingly close to Victorian wallpaper (I mean really: look what this Google Image Search turns up), it’s an image worth a thousand sciart graphic designs, or one really big roll of birthday wrap. Perhaps examples of this phenomena should to be added to a future BodyWorlds exhibit with appropriately Victorian-kitsch microscopes.

(A hat tip to Scope Medical Blog who smartly featured this as their Image of the Week. It makes me so happy a medical blog has an image of the week.)

Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite and is on Instagram. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. bucketofsquid 4:51 pm 04/9/2013

    That really does look like Victorian wall paper. I had to remove some once that looked remarkably similar. The pattern was more regular but it was black and well, used to be white before the paper yellowed. I think it was sprouting seeds and leafy vines very similar to what we see in the black in the image you used.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Glendon Mellow 8:41 pm 04/9/2013

    It’s startling, isn’t it bucketofsquid? Like leafy vines.

    Link to this

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