Is this a churning galaxy in some faraway corner of the universe? A neon rose plucked by a 1990s raver? Or just a dollop of fluorescent paint swirling down the drain? Nope - it’s the cochlea of a mouse that has been stained with antibodies to reveal cells with different functions.
The image, created by Karen Avraham and Shaked Shivatzki of Tel Aviv University in Israel, was the winning entry in the GenArt 2012 human genetics image competition.
Overlaid on the twisting cochlea is a cascade of green letters that make up the DNA sequence of connexin 26. Mutations in this gene are the most common cause for deafness, says Avraham. The image is an artistic representation of deep sequencing, a technique for detecting variances in DNA.
Avraham says deep sequencing is revolutionising the hunt for genetic mutations because of its speed and low cost. Where sequencing a genome once cost millions of dollars and took years, it now takes weeks and costs about $1000.
"By finding the mutations responsible for human disease, scientists can diagnose disorders in a way that was impossible before," she says.