Art can do two things for science: to help explain and visualise abstract concepts, and to show how beautiful science can be. This exhibit presents human biological tissues located on a world map. Each continent shows the part of the body that, when it becomes diseased or dysfunctional, is the main cause of death and morbidity (or one of the main ones) for the people who live there. When seen through the microscope, the tissues that form our organs and body parts can be stunningly beautiful, with all the complex structures that determine and enable their function forming beguiling, literally organic, patterns.
What are the main causes of death around the world?
If we need to pick a single cause, cardiovascular disease is the winner. And if we look into it in a little more detail, we see differences from area to area, not only in the causes of death but also in the diseases that are the greatest burden for those societies.
North America struggles with rising obesity, and this adipose tissue (fat) is more beautiful close up than you would imagine. Central and South America are represented here by pulmonary tissue (lungs); smoking and respiratory infections are a leading cause of death. Europe, with its ageing population, suffers greatly from neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia (neurones, brain tissue). Great swathes of the middle East and central Asia are shown here as cardiac muscle (heart), as these regions are afflicted with rising levels of hypertension and other causes of heart and cardiovascular failure. The far East and the Pacific look beautiful in pancreatic acinar tissue; its failure causes diabetes, a major problem in this area, frequently described as a diabetes epidemic.
The small population of Greenland is marked by a few sperm cells (infertility); the only artery is in the middle of the Amazon rainforest; and hidden among the tissues are five mitochondria, the organelle responsible for producing the chemical energy that cells need to live, and the current focus of much research into their key roles in death, disease and ageing.