Cheek cells.

It’s always fun to revisit simple experiments and test it out with the foldscope. In this post, I wanted to see my own cheek cells. Now, if you search on the microcosmos website, you’ll come across many posts on cheek cells, but I hope to share one interesting insight, making the case that it’s worthwhile re-doing something others have done- you never know what you’ll find!

This experiment is very simple. Find a bamboo/plastic toothpick. Scrub your inner cheek for ~20 seconds. Rub the toothpick on a slide and cover with a cover-slip. Thats it!

Here’s the first thing I saw. Plenty of cheek cells!! Very clear and beautiful. If you look carefully, you should see the circular nucleus in the center.

Now, here’s where it becomes interesting. Looking carefully, I could convince myself that the tiny ‘dots’ were actually bacteria – it wouldn’t be surprising – our mouths are filled with microorganisms. So, I decided to take some videos.

In this video, the first thing that amazed me was the large no. of cheek cells. I wonder if thats why a cheek swab is used to obtain dna for testing – there should be plenty of DNA to get a good read.

Here’s where I first observed a moving microorganisms. We thought its a bacteria – but I find it hard to believe. I wonder if its a Spirochaete? I know Manu has a post on them in his teeth scrapings..

Now Josh and I got pretty excited – in the next video, you can again make out moving tiny dots and rotating specks.


And this is the final longer video – I’ll leave it to you to find all the tiny moving bacteria in this video – and convince yourself that indeed, you’re mouth is teeming with all kinds of little creatures.


The point of this simple post is that many of you would have seen cheek cells in high school. However, I posit to you that doing it yourself is a rewarding exercise, specially with a foldscope. Even though you know what to expect, the foldscope lowers the discovery barrier in a marvelous way enabling you to make your own unexpected observations.

Last but not the least, cheek cells, and finding bacteria is also a simple experiment to practice your foldscoping skills. Because practice makes perfect!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Dear Foldscopers,

    What an interesting post – indeed practice really makes you perfect – and science is all about improving your skills.

    By bringing something that is so accessible to all of us – and still show the hidden wonders – proved the point do well.

    We would all love to see the associated videos. You can upload them easily either directly or via a link to viemo or YouTube (I prefer Vimeo because of higher quality). Can’t wait to examine these at closer details.

    Thanks again for sharing your skills and passion for the microcosmos. To everyone else – what are you waiting away. Watch your own self under a microscope; you would be surprised how much you will learn 🙂


  2. Saad Bhamla says:

    @manu- the videos don’t seem to be showing up on iPhone. But if you look on a desktop I can see the videos.

    Can you please confirm using a laptop?


  3. Manu Prakash says:

    @Marie: can you confirm this – th videos are not showing on my iPhone in this new plugin – which is a big problem. I see them fine in desktop.


  4. laksiyer says:

    Yes those are bacteria, wonder if they are bacteroidetes. One of our studies uncovered the presence of remarkbly diverse inter-bacterial conflict in microorganisms of the oral cavity. It is absolutely mind boggling to see the various strategies adopted by bacteria in allowing for kin to survive and killing or disabling non-kin. The paper is somewhat long, although microbiology is fast waking up to this aspect of life.

    1. Saad Bhamla says:

      Ah – bacteroidetes – yes, yes.. it could be.. I wonder if there are papers describing the micro biome of the oral cavity – and some dynamics of different bacteria found in there.. Do you know of any database where one can look up the swimming pattern/structure/size (or where sample was obtained) and then narrow down to the species of bacteria?
      That would be useful.

      I also have a nicer post for you and manu of helical swimmer i found in pond water.. Writing up the post this week – will post by next weekend. I’m hoping to see what you make of this bizarre swimmer I found in pond water 🙂


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