Cells and Kells

English: Note the histopathologic changes seen...

English: Note the histopathologic changes seen in histoplasmosis due to Histoplasma capsulatum var. duboisii. Note the presence of typical yeast cells, some of which are undergoing replication by “budding”. Histoplasmosis can be confined to the lungs, or become systemically disseminated, thereby, producing a fatal outcome. Methenamine silver stain was used here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Art-wise I’ve been spending some time, and this is in relation to my Below the Line project, brainstorming and researching, after writing my blog blue cells.  I was thinking about the Book of Kells and Carpet Pages. The connection?  As I drifted off to sleep at my keyboard, what came to mind was Cells & Kells.  When I set about, next morning, the storming of my brain, staining came to mind. Cells & Kells, storms & stains. I like to think of my research approach as the lateral thinking, rather than the grasshopper mind, approach.


ESOPHAGUS-STOMACH: MUCIN STAINS OF BARRETT’S MUCOSA Alcian blue stain of Barrett’s mucosa shows the blue-staining goblet cells, a few specialized columnar cells, and the clear-staining gastric-type surface columnar cells. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I rushed into my local chemist just before closing time that day and managed to purchase a small bottle of iodine. Look out for some iodine prints. I wanted to ask also if they stocked any osmium tetroxide, but lost my nerve at the last minute. There are only so many suspicious looks you can sustain. Though, I think on the whole this establishment is growing accustomed to my eccentric requests (one night just before Christmas I rushed in, a minute to closing time, in a panic and in an evening gown and shouted: Sellotape!)  It had nothing to do with the dress.

Cell Biology

Cell Biology (Photo credit: ex_magician)

The thing is, I understand now the cells/Kells connection and why it connects with staining.  Really, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck at how appropriate was staining to my project. Because my project is about finding a way of making the invisible, visible.

When I did an Internet search for the word staining, what came up that interested me most was biological staining.  About using certain substances – colours – to reveal certain aspects of cells, under a microscope. Key words in this are:  permeabilisation, fixation, mounting, staining. Here are the names of some stains:

folio 33 recto

folio 33 recto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bismarck Brown
Coomassie Blue
Crystal Violet
Ethidium bromide
Malachite Green
Methylene blue
Neutral/Tolyulene red
Nile red/Nile blue Oxazone
Osmium Tetroxide
Grocott-Gomori’s (or Gömöri) methenamine silver stain

There is staining and there is also counterstaining.  Crystal Violet, for instance, stains only certain bacteria, in a certain context. Safranin is another counterstain.

Permeabilisation involves treatment of cells in a way which dissolves the cell membranes and thus allowing dye molecules access to the cell’s interior.

English: Scan of a photograph of a detail of F...

English: Scan of a photograph of a detail of Folio 34 recto (Chi Rho page) of the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells was created c. 800 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fixation aims to preserve the shape of the cells or tissue. Heat, for example, is used to kill, adhere, and alter the specimen so it will accept stains. Common fixatives include formaldehyde, ethanol, methanol, and/or picric acid. Morsels of tissue may be embedded in paraffin wax to increase mechanical strength and stability and to make them easier to slice.

Then there is in vivo staining. These stains are called vital stains.

There is  Sudan staining, Sudan Black B, Silver staining.

So in addition to the vocabulary, the language I’m trying to create for my Below the Lines project, I’m finding colour. And method. Staining is a method.

I can’t help finding similarities between the photos of cells I’ve included here and the pages from the Book of Kells, particularly Folio 33, which is a Carpet Page.


About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
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4 Responses to Cells and Kells

  1. Ann, I’m impressed by this post. You are a true artist seeing cross relations between molecular biology, art, and history. Well done! Your thoughts and research make this post an interesting read.
    May we look forward to a next post ‘Melts and Celts”? 🙂


    • annisik51 says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words, Paula. I think artists are lateral thinkers by nature. Though I just looked up lateral thinking and it doesn’t seem to quite fit! I get what I call ‘quickenings’ and follow them up. It makes for exciting ‘walks’! Ann


  2. Susan says:

    This reading was the most fascinating part of my day. I must review all the stains.Thank you.


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