Bizarre fish face wins Nikon photography prize

If you have never been face-to-face with a fish embryo, now is your chance. This bizarre photo of a 4-day-old zebrafish face is the winner of this year’s Nikon Small World photography contest. Geneticist Oscar Ruiz and his team at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston faced the difficult task of mounting the fish embryo at just the right angle to bring its face in focus of their microscope. As luck would have it, the first image they took was a ringer (above). Now, Ruiz says, they are able to take similarly close time-lapse images of living fish as they grow using something called confocal microscopy. Ruiz studies facial development at the cellular level, in order to understand the role that epithelial tissues—including skin—play in multiple human diseases. He and his team track genetic mutations as they occur in the fish and match them to facial features that emerge during the earliest stages of growth, later comparing them with deformities that appear in humans like cleft lip and palate. “Using a live-imaging approach means we can better understand and pinpoint exactly how and why these developmental abnormalities occur,” Ruiz told Nikon in a press release. “The first step is knowing how it happens, then we can figure out how to fix it.” Want to face down some other cool images? The full list of contest winners, from close-ups of poisonous centipede fangs to scales on a butterfly wing, is available here.