Etch a Cell

by Gabrielle Easterly

For decades, scientists have been trying to understand cells and how they work. The project that my group chose, Etch a Cell, will continue to assist scientists through a Zooniverse project. Zooniverse is a citizen science platform that allows  people to make an account and follow along with various projects to look at pictures and analyze them by either drawing something out, making marks, separating, or through other actions. For the Etch a Cell project we are instructed to look at a picture of a cell taken by an electron microscope and draw out the lining between the nucleus and the other chemicals that surround it called the nuclear envelope. While this project may not be the most fun to do, it can be very helpful for the development of cures for various diseases and cancers.


Our job is to segment the image taken by the electron microscope which allows for vision of smaller object such as cells. Segmenting is highlighting the topic of interest within an image, not just specifically identifying the nucleus and highlighting it. We are doing this because from this segmenting scientists can then create three-dimensional pictures that allow for better understanding of how the cell is formed. They are able to do this by segmenting together the different segments that we highlighted to create a model (The Francis Crick Institute). How cool?

The importance of this project by itself can not be stressed enough on the future development of health in the world! This project is extremely essential for cures to cell abnormalities caused by “cancer, infectious diseases (including HIV, tuberculosis, malaria), the immune system, the brain and nervous system, diabetes and several others” (Francis Crick Institute). The nuclear envelope forms in different ways based on what diseases or other cell irregularities that cause a negative or positive impact on the body. The nuclear envelope protects the nucleus and acts as a “gate,” and separates the chemicals outside of the nucleus from the nucleus itself (The Francis Crick Institute). With our couple of minutes to help these scientists we can help them understand cells better and make things more possible than they had been.

455a5710-738b-41ce-a6ce-14ef94d332d5With what might seem like only a small amount of assistance, people like you and I can help change the dynamics of cell studies. Segmenting the photos by themselves makes the overall process of creating the three-dimensional models much easier for the scientists. From the creations of the three-dimensional models scientists will now be able to understand how different diseases affect the cell, specifically the nucleus and nuclear envelope. Eventually computers will learn to do both the segmentation and creation of models on their own but all it will take is the continuous help of citizen scientists. With enough help from citizen scientists we can help the scientists at the Francis Crick Institute be “able to train computers to segment automatically” which can further their understanding of biology and the ability “to work out how new treatments might be created” (The Francis Crick Institute).

From this project we, regular people or citizen scientists, will be able to help lead to ,eventually, further understandings of cells. The Zooniverse platform makes it simple for people to become scientists and you would not think that drawing a line around a nucleus would have as much of an impact as it potentially could. This process would have taken the scientists at The Francis Crick Institute much more time to complete by hand.

Remember you too can become a citizen scientist and help continue the study for treatments!


The Francis Crick Institute. (n.d.). Etch a Cell . Retrieved July 13, 2017, from


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