Stellaform, 2012

Projected Light and Photographic Installation

Change is a constant in the universe. In biological terms, ‘Transformative Motion’ or the idea of change over time essentially describes evolution. It has been proposed that Astrocytes or “star cells” may underlie the evolution of human intelligence. Here I present Stellaform, a multi-media installation and monument to the unseen and unsuspected Astrocyte, invisible cellular player in the development of man.

Astrocytes are the most abundant type of cell in the human brain. For centuries, neurons occupied centre stage in neurobiology, while astrocytes were categorized as ‘glia,’ the ‘glue’ or ‘slime’ found between revered neurons. Now, Astrocytes are beginning to be understood as dynamic regulators of the central nervous system. They function like parents: organizing, judging, telling neurons what to do, and cleaning up after them. Astrocytes have a star-shaped internal skeleton made up of filamentous proteins. In the brain, their many arms reach out to touch neuronal axons, ensheath synapses, and wrap around tiny blood vessels. They are superb connectors and secrete molecules that cause a cascade of effects in the cells around them. The proportion of astrocytes to neurons in animal brains increases with complexity and size. In worms, there are about 6 neurons to 1 astrocyte, in mice, the ratio is 3:1. Remarkably, in humans there are more astrocytes in the brain than neurons, about 1.4:1. Human astrocytes also have many more projections and thus create many more connections than astrocytes in other animals.

Using the tools of research science in a laboratory setting, I grow cells and then ‘stain’ or label them with colored fluorescent antibodies that stick specifically to a certain part of a cell. In the astrocytes presented here, the filamentous protein GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein) is labelled, as well as cell nuclei. Using a scanning confocal laser microscope and a digital camera the labelled cells can be visualized and photographed. For scanning electron microscopy, cells were dehydrated and coated in gold for imaging. These astrocytes were grown from mouse neural stem cells.

Special thanks to Dr. Derek van der Kooy, Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto.

Using Format