My Beautiful Army of Trained Killers

I seldom talk about – if ever – my fascination with the sciences. Especially on my blog, which I have given over to the humanities and a bit of a metaphysical analysis as it has been of late.

I have been looking through the scientific images of the Royal Photographic Society (as you do) and found myself in utter awe at the sheer raw beauty of science.

Under an electron microscope, the world is a very different, almost alien place.

I was looking at an image by David Scharf, which depicts the natural killer (NK) human lymphocyte. To the untrained eye, it basically looks like a roundish rainbow coloured splodge with worm-like tendrils shooting up and outwards from all directions.

Yet, this is one of the smartest things in all creation. It hunts down cells that have been infected with a virus, engulfs it and proceeds to destroy it. It is like an itty-bitty soldier in your body, kicking ass to secure your survival.

A different view of a Lymphocyte: "SEM Lymphocyte" by Unknown photographer/artist (False colour modifications made by - Dr. Triche National Cancer Institute.  -DO11.10)
A different view of a Lymphocyte: “SEM Lymphocyte” by Unknown photographer/artist (False colour modifications made by – Dr. Triche National Cancer Institute. -DO11.10)

It’s a clever little critter. It has to decide what it friend or foe. During pregnancy, it has to rethink its game plan too. Think about it logically – the idea of pregnancy is that two non-tissue matched people have created a new living thing inside a woman’s body. Therefore, the immune system has to be suppressed to an extent to ensure there isn’t a rejection of the new tissue matter. NK lymphocytes may be the guard-dogs of your body, but there are times when they have to let some things through, which essentially goes against their natures. The same goes for organ donation. You want your body to accept what is essentially unrecognised alien matter, which therefore is counter to their whole entire purpose in life.

Those plucky little NK cells start life in places like your spleen and your bone marrow, before it trundles off when it matures, to save your life.

It loyally defends you against anything that makes it into your system that harms you and would happily sacrifice itself to keep you alive and safe from it, at the cellular level.

I just find its entire presence thoroughly comforting at times – that you are never alone or unwanted. There are microscopic things whirling around your body, fighting for you, wanting you to be okay and standing by you no matter what.

Sometimes I think that, as people, we emulate without perhaps knowing, those little miracles in our bodies. Some people can be as tenacious and as indefatigable and as loyal as those little guys; it pulses and radiates out of some people from the marrow (where some NK cells are born) outwards. Of course, some people you meet emulate virus’.

Now, isn’t all that a pleasant thought?

*shuffles off to read some more sciencey stuff, because science rocks*


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