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Wellcome Image of the Week: Fruit and Veg

8 Nov, 2013

Fruit and veg imaged by MRI

We have all sliced and diced our fruit and vegetables but Dr Alexandr Khrapichev from the University of Oxford has taken this one step further. He has used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look inside these items of food without damaging them. These images were originally taken for an open day at the Department of Oncology, with the aim of introducing a complex medical technique by using it to image everyday recognisable objects.

MRI is a painless, non-invasive technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to image the inside of the object being scanned. It is most commonly used in a healthcare or medical setting to view the inside of the human body when diagnosing conditions, and can reveal fine details in different types of tissue in the body.

Signals predominantly from hydrogen atoms found in biological tissues (mainly water and fat) are used to create MRI images. During a scan, a magnetic field is applied to the person (or fruit) being scanned. Hydrogen atoms in the body behave like tiny magnets which spin to try and align themselves with the magnetic field. Disrupting the magnetic field and switching it on and off causes changes in this movement, and hydrogen atoms located in different tissues behave differently. This information is then used to create incredibly detailed images.

Can you name every fruit and vegetable in the collage above? The images have been digitally coloured changing only the hue to match the natural colour of the fruit or vegetable. Image contrast corresponds to MRI signal intensity. From left to right, top to bottom, they are: star fruit, conker, garlic, tinda, pomegranate, artichoke, mandarin orange, squash, persimmon or sharon fruit, strawberry, tomato, and cabbage.

6 November 2013 marked the fourth annual American Heart Association’s National Eating Healthy Day, which aims to raise awareness of the impact that food choices can have on health. Talking of being healthy, how many of you have had your 5 portions of fruit or veg today…?!

Image credit: Alexandr Khrapichev, University of Oxford, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 Nov, 2013 9:34 pm

    This probably sounds stupid, but it is something I often wonder. Could genetic changes in people and other animals be caused by triggers in the food they eat? Suppose a plant carries a wrong genetic code? Could that be copied by the body that digests them? Is it safer to eat new, young fruit and vegetables? Has anyone researched it?

    • 11 Nov, 2013 4:18 pm

      Hi Pippa
      Good question – genes are obviously pretty fundamental to our biology, so it’s natural to wonder about what can alter them. However, although our diet can have a significant effect on our health, it’s unlikely to be due to the non-human genes we consume. Here’s a nice blog post by science writer Emily Anthes, where she explains how much ‘foreign’ DNA we are eating and how little effect it has in our bodies: http://blogs.plos.org/wonderland/2011/02/09/dining-on-dna/
      Basically, when we eat genes (from plants, animals or bacteria hitching a ride in our food), the enzymes in our stomachs break those genes down into the simple components of DNA. It’s like taking a sentence and breaking it down into the individual letters of the alphabet. Then, just as those letters could be rearranged into different words, the DNA components are used to build new molecules of DNA that copy our existing genes when our cells divide and make new cells.
      If any intact foreign genes did manage to make it into one of our cells, they would be subject to other mechanisms that check our DNA and try to keep it as accurate as possible. If they survived that process and the cell began making proteins from the foreign genes, our immune system would be there to identify and destroy cells making any non-human proteins. That’s not to say it could never happen but like so many other creatures, humans have always eaten other organisms’ DNA and we have pretty stringent ways of protecting our own genes from becoming corrupted as a result.

      • 11 Nov, 2013 7:30 pm

        Thanks for the very comprehensive reply. :)

  2. 22 Jul, 2015 6:12 pm

    Well, the tomatoes have more genes than humans. They’re ahead of us with almost 7000 to be precise. Still – this doesn’t mean we are less complicated than them and – we eat them. I don’t think it has any impact.

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