3-D Interactive Discovery Niche

Set in discrete spots throughout the Town Center, the technology-enhanced discovery niches are intended to attract the attention of casual visitors and serve as a destination for planned events. Faculty members, students and private sector collaborators are encouraged to submit ideas and content for the niches to ensure that the themes reflect emerging science.

The Metabolism of Aging

They look like art pieces: turquoise fibroblasts, swirling mouse brains and Technicolor fat cells.

But behind these vibrant microscopic images being showcased at the 3-D niche in the Town Center is a serious scientific mystery. Is your lunch giving you gray hair?

Here is what we know. Caloric restriction – eating less – is a dietary intervention that postpones aging in many organisms, from worms to monkeys. It works at the cellular level, reprogramming an individual’s metabolism and delaying the onset of age-associated afflictions like cancer, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Visitors to the niche can learn more and explore cutting-edge metabolic research being conducted at UW–Madison. The research highlights white adipose tissue, traditionally regarded as a fat storage depot but now known to play a much more active role.

Both aging and overeating negatively affect this type of tissue, leading to larger fat cells and system-wide stress. The end result? Molecules send altered signals, inflammation increases, and the body becomes more vulnerable to diseases like type II diabetes.  

The researchers are using genetics and pharmacology to learn more about the relationship between metabolism and fat cell signaling. They want to discover which signaling pathways are activated by caloric restriction and test what happens when they activate those pathways in the lab.

Fluorescent microscopic imaging is helping them in their quest. And visitors can marvel at the artsy results.

The current exhibit is part of a series looking at age and its effects. Still to come at the niche:

July 5-24
Aging in metabolism and adipose
Rozalyn Anderson
Noon @ the Niche July 16

July 25-August 3

Aging and balance: Effects on visual reality
Darryl Thelen

Aging in the prostate
David Jarrard
Noon @ the Niche, date TBD