The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

There's a stunning new photo gallery called Life: Magnified that's currently on display at Washington's Dulles International Airport's Gateway Gallery. Here's a sampling of the gallery's best images — from the hairs on a gecko's feet to the viruses that make our lives miserable.

All captions via National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Photo credits appear beneath each image.

HIV/AIDS Infecting a Human Cell

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This human T cell (blue) is under attack by HIV (yellow), the virus that causes AIDS. The virus specifically targets T cells, which play a critical role in the body's immune response against invaders like bacteria and viruses. (Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer and Austin Athman, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health)

This Parasitic Worm Infects 200 Million People Worldwide

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

The parasitic worm that causes schistosomiasis hatches in water and grows up in a freshwater snail, as shown here. Once mature, the worm swims back into the water, where it can infect people through skin contact. Initially, an infected person might have a rash, itchy skin or flu-like symptoms, but the real damage is done over time to internal organs. (Bo Wang and Phillip A. Newmark, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013 FASEB BioArt winner)

The Brain's Locomotion Control Center

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

A close-up view of the cerebellum. (Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, University of California, San Diego)

The Bubonic Plague

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Here, bubonic plague bacteria (yellow) are shown in the digestive system of a rat flea (purple). Carried by rodents and spread by fleas, the bubonic plague killed a third of Europeans in the mid-14th century. Today, it is still active in Africa, Asia and the Americas, with as many as 2,000 people infected worldwide each year. If caught early, bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics. (B. Joseph Hinnebusch, Elizabeth Fischer and Austin Athman, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health)

A salad-like mix of blood cells

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This microscopic look at human blood reveals that nearly half of our blood is composed of red blood cells. These lozenge-shaped cells have the all-important role of delivering oxygen to our tissues. T cells (orange) are an essential part of the immune system. Platelets (green), the smallest blood cells, clump together into clots to stanch bleeding after an injury. (Dennis Kunkel, Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.)

A brain ravaged by Alzheimer's Disease

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Along with blood vessels (red) and nerve cells (green), this mouse brain shows abnormal protein clumps known as plaques (blue). These plaques multiply in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease and are associated with the memory impairment characteristic of the disease. Because mice have genomes nearly identical to our own, they are used to study both the genetic and environmental factors that trigger Alzheimer's disease. Experimental treatments are also tested in mice to identify the best potential therapies for human patients. (Alvin Gogineni, Genentech)

A zebrafish just 22 hours after fertilization

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Just 22 hours after fertilization, this zebrafish embryo is already taking shape. By 36 hours, all of the major organs will have started to form. The zebrafish's rapid growth and see-through embryo make it ideal for scientists studying how organs develop. (Philipp Keller, Bill Lemon, Yinan Wan and Kristin Branson, Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, Va.)

Anthrax being swallowed-up by the immune system

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Multiple anthrax bacteria (green) are being enveloped by an immune system cell (purple). Anthrax bacteria live in soil and form dormant spores that can survive for decades. When animals eat or inhale these spores, the bacteria activate and rapidly increase in number. Today, a highly effective and widely used vaccine has made the disease uncommon in domesticated animals and rare in humans. (Camenzind G. Robinson, Sarah Guilman and Arthur Friedlander, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases)

The hairs on a gecko's foot

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This up-close look at a gecko's foot shows some of its 500,000 or so toe hairs, each of which is about one-tenth the thickness of a human hair. These hairs split into smaller hairs that fray into spatula-shaped structures, which give geckos their gravity-defying ability to scamper up walls and across ceilings. The strong-yet-gentle grip of gecko feet has inspired the design of medical adhesives for use on delicate skin. (Dennis Kunkel, Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.)

A skin cell that's gone cancerous

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

These skin cancer cells come from a mouse, an animal commonly used to study human diseases (including many types of cancer) and to test the effectiveness of drugs. The two cells shown here are connected by actin (green), a protein in the cellular skeleton. Although actin is required by many cells for normal movement, it also enables cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body. (Catherine and James Galbraith, Oregon Health and Science University, Knight Cancer Institute)

An infected cell engulfed by Ebola

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

After multiplying inside a host cell, the stringlike Ebola virus is emerging to infect more cells. Ebola is a rare, often fatal disease that occurs primarily in tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa. The virus is believed to spread to humans through contact with wild animals, especially fruit bats. It can be transmitted between one person and another through bodily fluids. (Heinz Feldmann, Peter Jahrling, Elizabeth Fischer and Anita Mora, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health)

This infected cell has a fever

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This image shows Q-fever bacteria (yellow), which infect cows, sheep and goats around the world and can infect humans, as well. When caught early, Q fever can be cured with antibiotics. A small fraction of people can develop a more serious, chronic form of the disease. (Robert Heinzen, Elizabeth Fischer and Anita Mora, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health)

These spikes are why seasonal allergies are such a bitch

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Those of us who get sneezy and itchy-eyed every spring or fall may have pollen grains, like those shown here, to blame. Pollen grains are the male germ cells of plants, released to fertilize the corresponding female plant parts. When they are instead inhaled into human nasal passages, they can trigger allergies. (Edna, Gil and Amit Cukierman, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pa.)

Inside the mouth of a tick

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

The mouth parts of a lone star tick are revealed in vivid detail. The center of the mouth (yellow) is covered with many tiny barbs. These barbs keep the tick securely lodged inside the host while feeding. Lone star ticks are common in wooded areas throughout the central and eastern United States, including around Washington Dulles International Airport. They can carry disease-causing organisms, but these typically do not include the Lyme disease bacterium. (Igor Siwanowicz, Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, Va.)

This virus kills 450,000 people each year

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This image shows a three-dimensional reconstruction of a rotavirus at a magnification of about 50,000. Rotavirus infects humans as well as other animals and causes severe diarrhea in infants and young children. There are very few fatalities in the United States and other places where a vaccine is available, but elsewhere, the virus is responsible for more than 450,000 deaths each year. (National Resource for Automated Molecular Microscopy, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif.)

The birth of a yeast cell

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Yeast make bread, beer and wine. And like us, yeast can reproduce sexually. A mother and father cell fuse and create one large cell that contains four offspring. When environmental conditions are favorable, the offspring are released, as shown here. Yeast are also a popular study subject for scientists. Research on yeast has yielded vast knowledge about basic cellular and molecular biology as well as about myriad human diseases, including colon cancer and various metabolic disorders. (Juergen Berger, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, and Maria Langegger, Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society, Germany)

These duplicated chromosomes are being pulled apart

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This pig cell is in the process of dividing. The chromosomes (purple) have already replicated and the duplicates are being pulled apart by fibers of the cell skeleton known as microtubules (green). Studies of cell division yield knowledge that is critical to advancing understanding of many human diseases, including cancer and birth defects. (Nasser Rusan, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health)

A cell preparing to divide

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

This cell is preparing to divide. Two copies of each chromosome (blue) are lined up next to each other in the center of the cell. Next, protein strands (red) will pull apart these paired chromosomes and drag them to opposite sides of the cell. The cell will then split to form two daughter cells, each with a single, complete set of chromosomes. (Jane Stout, Indiana University, 2012 GE Healthcare Cell Imaging Competition )

A jellyfish

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Jellyfish are especially good models for studying the evolution of embryonic tissue layers. Despite being primitive, jellyfish have a nervous system (stained green here) and musculature (red). Cell nuclei are stained blue. By studying how tissues are distributed in this simple organism, scientists can learn about the evolution of the shapes and features of diverse animals. (Helena Parra, Pompeu Fabra University, Spain)

This is what a human liver cells look like

The Astounding And Horrific World As Seen Under A Microscope

Hepatocytes are the most abundant type of cell in the human liver. They play an important role in building proteins; producing bile, a liquid that aids in digesting fats; and chemically processing molecules found normally in the body, like hormones, as well as foreign substances like medicines and alcohol. (Donna Beer Stolz, University of Pittsburgh).

Life: Magnified is a joint project among the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the American Society for Cell Biology and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's Arts Program, which utilizes the arts to enhance travel experiences at Dulles International and Reagan National Airports. ZEISS provided additional support of the exhibit.

[ National Institute of General Medical Sciences ]