What look like dunes in the desert are actually muscles underneath the epidermis of a zebrafish embryo. The epidermis is patterned by ridges forming its scales.
The image was taken with a scanning electron microscope. These microscopes produce images by scanning the surface of a sample with a focused beam of electrons. The electrons interact with the atoms in the sample, creating signals that can be interpreted as information about the surface structure and the composition of the sample.
Scanning electron microscopes provide a large depth of field: the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that are in acceptably sharp focus in an image. This feature creates a three-dimensional image of the sample, which is useful for studying – and understanding – the surface structure. In this case, the surface features, including the scales, of the tiny zebrafish have been studied.
The zebrafish is not only a popular aquarium fish but is also used as a model organism in scientific research. Its genome has been fully sequenced, and its easily observable and testable developmental behaviours are well understood.
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