School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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2003, Summer

Summer 2009 Mystery Image

Summer 2009 Mystery Image
Image by CJ Kazilek

This is one of our pictures of a single pollen grain. It was taken using a scanning-laser confocal microscope. These microscopes take many images of a sample at different depths. Each image, or as we call them slice, is saved and later the entire group of images are put back together using a computer. The final image has much more detail than a standard microscope. You can learn more about how confocal microscopes work at The Paper Project.

What is the purpose of  those "bumps" on the surface?

That's a good question. If they actually have a function it could be one of the following.

  • They may be left over from the process that formed the pollen grains or may have to do with the way they were packed together.
  • They may also have some quite prosaic, molecular level function like holding water (by capillary attraction) close to the outer surface of the grain long enough to allow hydration.
  • They may be a method of "directing" the growth of the pollen tube on germination.
  • They may be low frequency interstellar communication antennae.

We are not quite sure if they have a function. Maybe you will be the scientist that finds out.


 If you are curious, here are some numbers from our list of guesses. 

  • 21% Brain or brain cell
  • 18% Cell
  • 11% Egg
  • 11% Pollen
  • 11% Virus
  • 7% D.N.A.
  • 3% Atom

Some of the creative single answers are listed below. 

  • Ants underground
  • The formation of DNA, the pink strands being the nucleotides
  • A cell covered with flat worms
  • Brain cells while watching color T.V.
  • Part of the brain that detects color
  • Maybe a virus or a type of sea animal that lives deep in the ocean and makes its own light. 
  • It's the egg of a T. Rex in the mutational, evolutionary, stage as described by a fictional novel.

To download a computer wallpaper of this image, right click on this link or image and save it to your computer.

ant, photo by Alex Wild

It's like having your own microscope! Visit our Zoom Gallery to explore and have fun zooming in and moving around each image.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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ant, photo by Alex Wild

It's like having your own microscope! Visit our Zoom Gallery to explore and have fun zooming in and moving around each image.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.