Image of the Day: Ghostly Tails
Image of the Day: Ghostly Tails

Image of the Day: Ghostly Tails

Planarians are turned into art by a group of scientists and artists.

Oct 31, 2019
Emily Makowski
ABOVE: Time-lapse microscopy image of planarian flatworms
STEPH NOWOTARSKI, MOL MIR, WILLIAM PLUMMER, AND JASON POLLEN

Steph Nowotarski, an artist and postdoc in Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado’s lab at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, studies how planarian flatworms (class Turbellaria) regenerate. “[I] can cut a 1 cm worm into multiple pieces, and each piece, regardless of where in the animal it was taken from, will make a whole new animal in just 14 days,” she says in an email to The Scientist

Nowotarski is teaming up with other Kansas City–based artists to create an exhibit inspired by flatworm research in the University of Missouri–Kansas City Gallery of Art. She is partnering with Jason Pollen, professor emeritus at the Kansas City Art Institute, and recent Kansas City Art Institute graduates William Plummer and Mol Mir, who works as a lab assistant in Alvarado’s lab. 

Flatworms leave “trails” behind in this digitally manipulated video as they crawl in different directions.
WILLIAM PLUMMER, STEPH NOWOTARSKI, MOL MIR, AND JASON POLLEN

The images are based on time-lapse microscopy. “In the lab, to see how well planarians have regenerated their digestive system, we feed the worms food colored with dye. We took the idea of that laboratory technique and fed planarians concentrated watercolor pigments and fluorescent pigments, turning the planarians themselves into brushes,” says Nowotarski. They then manipulated the recordings to get the “ghost-like” tail projections shown in the videos, which represent faint mucus trails that the worms leave behind. 

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com