Synaptic Transmission

I have come to expect that, during my art/science collaborations, I will find myself out of my depth from time to time in a rarefied and highly specific discipline – thoughts here of Steven Wilson and the dilettante question:   – In the Dottori laboratory, as I observe experiments relating to the enormously complex sensory systems within the human body and the way that sensory stimuli are received and travel to and from the brain, I am entering terrain that is far beyond my own expertise.

As a result of this, I recently supplemented my conversations and observations about the creation of neuronal populations and the formation of functional networks by consulting a website aptly entitled:  On this site I took a look at these processes more generally and diagrammatically. The following is a brief outline of what I have abstracted:

The generic process that allows sensory stimuli to pass around our body is known as Synaptic Transmission. When neurons communicate they usually do so in a designated area known as a synapse. Although very close, the neurons do not actually touch each other, but are separated by the synaptic cleft that allows chemical messages to pass across from one neuron to the receptors of another neuron on the other side.

The synapse area where neurons come close enough to each other to transmit messages

The neuron sending the chemical signal is known as the presynaptic neuron and the neuron that receives this message is known as the postsynaptic neuron.

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Defining the ‘senses’

An Internet search for ‘senses’ reveals that the current biophysical benchmark consists of five senses: touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. This basic group of five is sometimes extended to include balance, temperature and proprioception. However this traditional biophysical model has been challenged and extended and today there is really no absolute definition!

It is widely accepted that the earliest systematic consideration of the nature of the senses is found in Aristotle’s De Anima, Book II, ch. 7-11. This text might be described as a type of rumination on the constituent factors of the soul of various living entities in combination with an early concept of biology and, in the case of humans, intellect. Descartes subsequently challenged the notion of relying on personal senses to validate human perceptions, whilst successive thinkers have subsequently destabilised Descartes dualistic outlook,  preferring to use the term ‘vital force’, rater than soul.

The notion of the ‘vital force’ was central to my doctoral thesis research into concepts of ‘humanness’ and experimental links to the nineteenth century developments in galvanics. In particular, the development of electricity led to the invention of machines that could supposedly define the human body and all its component parts.

the kymograph was on such scientific machine developed to measure electrical impulses

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Australian Institute for Innovative Materials(AIIM)

This week included something outside the Dottori lab when Mirella and I visited the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials  (AIIM) at the Innovation Campus:

This exciting opportunity all began with a chance meeting between myself and the Executive Director: Professor Will Price, which involved a conversation about the possibilities of incorporating 3D components into my future artworks. Will subsequently set up an exploratory visit to the 3D workshop with the Associate Dean of Research (AIIM), Professor Peter Innis.

Equipped with high end machines of various types this facility is arguably the most advanced of its kind in Australia.

A large printer in action

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Incucyte Technology

During my laboratory orientation at the very beginning of this project Linda Deitch made a point of drawing our attention to the two new Incucyte machines. These high-end machines are capable of real-time live-cell imaging and analysis inside the laboratory incubator. This means there is no need to open the incubator door & remove cells to check on their development. Once the Incucyte has been programmed, the images of the changing cultures are transmitted directly to the computer for analysis.

Image from the early part of the Incucyte sequence: image captured by Sara Miellet.
11 hours later in the Incucyte sequence: image captured by Sara Miellet

These images reveal the sensory neurons developing in the ‘plate’, they are not imaged as 3D organoids in this instance.

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