Renee Conway, Graduate Student (Spence Laboratory), Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan Medical School
This image shows a cross-section through the embryonic trachea, commonly known as the windpipe. This is the tube through which air enters the body and reaches the lungs. Each gray dot is the nucleus of a single cell. The cells outlined in blue are the cells that line the trachea, and the cells marked by green make up cartilage, the hard rings you can feel if you touch your throat. Interestingly, the different cell types in this image actually communicate with one another, using molecular messages to guide the proper formation of a functional trachea. The pink dots represent specific messenger RNA molecules that are part of this cellular communication process. In the condition known as tracheomalacia, the cartilage component of the trachea fails to properly develop and this weakens the walls of the trachea proper, causing them to collapse. Tracheomalacia can also develop in people who have been intubated for prolonged periods of time, a new worry in this age of COVID-19.