A Pair of Misconceptions


This week I practiced using a clean-lined style that could be found in a textbook. My subjects: two cellular celebrities that have been inaccurately depicted in our textbooks (according to my Animal Physiology professor, who studies both). The technique used to observe mitochondria has resulted in many textbooks and cellular diagrams showing them as football-shaped. This technique takes a thin slice of the cell. Imagine a baguette. You can get a variety of slice shapes depending on the angle of your cut, but most of these slices do not reflect the size of the original loaf. Only when you cut lengthwise, just one of many possibilies, will your slice reflect the real size of the whole.

Neurons, as my professor liked to point out, are often depicted too short. Admittedly, I feel my drawing of the neuron is not long enough, but short of having an image some 5000 pixels tall and 300 pixels wide, it will have to suffice.

Also, keep in mind that, like most things in Nature, there is a tremendous amount of variability among mitochondria and neurons. For example, mitochondria vary greatly in length, depending on the cell that contains them. In some cells, they can even form networks of their own, shaping up into something that could be mistaken for an endoplasmic reticulum. Likewise, neurons vary in the length and degree of branching of their dendrites (shown here as the branches radiating from the cell body, at upper end of the neuron) and axon terminals (the Y shape at the bottom end of the neuron), in addition to the length of their axon.


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