Mesmerizing Videos Show Hidden Microscopic World Inside Termite's Gut and More

Japanese camera and optical equipment manufacturer Nikon announced the winners of its 11th annual "Small World in Motion" competition, which highlights some of the best recent photography and video taken under the microscope.

The winning images and video clips provide a stunning glimpse into a microscopic world that is normally hidden from our gaze.

First prize in this year's competition was awarded to Fabian Weston from Pennant Hills, New South Wales, Australia, who captured fascinating footage of microorganisms living in the gut of a termite.

Weston captured the video using a research microscope from the 1970s. His aim was to visually illustrate the symbiotic relationship between termites and these particular microscopic organisms.

The organisms and their termite host were difficult to film because they are sensitive to light and oxygen. Even small changes in the environment can result in the termite and its symbiotic microorganisms perishing.

"The most challenging part of capturing this video was finding the right solution for the creatures themselves," Weston said in a statement. "I tried a lot of methods, even preparing my own saline solution."

"They're very sensitive to oxygen, so I had to remove as much gas from the solution as possible. It was very tricky, and I had to work fast. The video you're seeing is the result of months of trial and error, a lot of research and perseverance."

The microorganisms observed inside the termite gut are known as protists—a term referring to a diverse group of predominantly single-celled organisms that aren't considered to be plants, animals or fungus.

The organisms observed in the video have formed a unique relationship with the termites, digesting the plant-based cellulose that the insects eat and helping them to derive nutrition from it, while also cycling carbon back into the soil.

Tumor and a Water Flea

Second place in the competition was awarded to Dr. Stephanie Hachey and Dr. Christopher Hughes from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the University of California, Irvine for their mesmerizing time-lapse of an engineered tumor forming and spreading.

The other winners included third-placed Andrei Savitsky from Cherkassy, Ukraine, who captured footage of a water flea (Daphnia pulex) giving birth to tiny cubs.

Meanwhile, fifth place went to Dr. Sachie Kanatani and Dr. Photini Sinnis from the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who recorded an infected mosquito spewing out malaria parasites that had been highlighted with a fluorescent substance.

Among the honorable mentions were Sophie-Marie Aicher and Dr. Delphine Planas from the Department of Virology at the Institut Pasteur Paris in France, who captured footage of infection with SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—triggering cell fusion and cell death in bat brain cells.

Microorganisms in a termite gut
This screenshot is taken from a video showing microorganisms in the gut of a termite. It was awarded first prize in the 2021 Nikon Small World In Motion microphotography competition. Nikon Small World In Motion/Fabian J. Weston