What my muscle cells did on holiday

oooh look at his big muscles
“oooh look at his big muscles”

Emma Watson, the scientist running the muscle study (called EXPLORE) that I took part in has kindly emailed me an update on what’s happening with the bits of my body she chopped out.

This post is largely Emma’s email, with a stupid title added and with the wording altered a little bit so it sounds like me talking. I’ve also no doubt introduced various errors in both the English and the science that render her original meaning entirely corrupt.

So – here’s what my muscle cells did on holiday:

  • First, Emma and Nat took the sample from Leicester General back to the lab, and poured it into a petri dish:

    (click to enlarge)
  • Then they made up a “digestion cocktail” which contains enzymes to help break down the structure of the muscle, releasing individual cells into the liquid. To help this process, using sterile scissors, they chopped the pieces of muscle into tiny bits, leaving it looking like this:

    (click to enlarge)
  • Once the cells had been released they were collected and put into a new petri dish with some media.  This media contains everything the cells need to grow – growth factors and food and some antibiotics to stop any infections as they don’t have their own immune system!
  • After they have been growing for about 1 week this is what they look like – these are called myoblasts. They are immature muscle cells at the early stage of their development.  They aren’t actually green don’t worry, its just the light on the microscope!

    (click to enlarge)
  • After they have been given another week or two to develop they begin to mature and this is what they look like now – as you can see they have grown longer and have begun to line up together – they are much less random than they were in the previous picture.

    (click to enlarge)
  • Finally here they are in closeup. They are becoming a more mature muscle cell – a myotube. In order to really get them to mature they need to be put in a new media with a different mix of growth factors and energy that cause them to grow much longer and bigger. It will take around another 10 days to get them to that state.

    (click to enlarge)

But for now, much as I am doing, my cells are having a rest over easter and – this is where our experiences diverge – have been frozen down until they are due to be used for their first experiments in April.

Thanks Emma!

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