High school biology didn’t do much to make cells seem like fascinating, psychedelic visual art. The plant and animal cell diagrams splashed across textbook pages are a world away from what the billions of cells dividing, dying or busily making proteins actually look like. The Cell: A Visual Tour of the Building Block of Life by Jack Challoner more than makes up for that shortfall.

Every person, Challoner notes, started as one cell about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. That single cell hung around for 24 hours before dividing in two, then proliferating like mad. During this time, the cells developed into about 200 different types. But every living thing starts as a single cell—the biggest single cell being an ostrich egg—and the range of cell life is breathtaking.

Using 250 illustrations and microscope photographs (micrographs), Challoner takes readers through the history of cell biology and explores incredible cell machinery and diversity. Cells make up more than 8 million species, each unique because of their different functions: Chameleons have camouflage, fireflies have butts that glow, plants have flowers that open to the sun.

The amazing micrographs in this gallery show the tiny building blocks of life in rich, strange detail. A fluorescent purple and orange claw is the anther of a lily plant. A floating green orb with three green balls is an algae colony. And eerie red worms crawling all over a blue meteor is the Ebola virus emerging from a monkey’s kidney cell. If the images didn’t come with scientific explanation, it would be easy to confuse them with radical abstract art. Any one of these photos, blown up and framed, would grace a blank apartment wall—as long as you don’t mind an increase in biology conversations.

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Amazing Micrographs Show What Cells Really Look Like