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Project allows users to explore 3D vertebrate specimens from inside out (Image 6)

CT scan of earless monitor lizard

A computed tomography scan of a earless monitor lizard (Lanthanotus borneensis). A native of Borneo, these lizards are the only living species in their family. The scan was taken as part of a project to scan vertebrate specimens, then make the data available on an open access website. [Image 6 of 11 related images. See Image 7.]

More about this image
A recent grant by the Natoinal Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting the launch of a project that will scan 20,000 vertebrates from the Florida Museum of Natural History's collection using computed tomography (CT) scanning and make these data-rich, 3D images available to researchers, educators, students and the public via the internet.

Called the oVert project -- short for openVertebrate, the project will encompass representative specimens from more than 80 percent of existing vertebrate genera, and a selection of these will also be scanned with contrast-enhancing stains to characterize soft tissues.

CT scanning takes X-rays of a specimen from every angle, creating thousands of snapshots that a computer stitches together into a detailed 3D visual replica. The image can be virtually dissected, layer by layer, to expose cross sections and internal structures. The scans allow scientists to view a specimen inside and out, including its skeleton, muscles, internal organs, parasites and even its stomach contents, without touching a scalpel.

Images scanned for the project will then be housed in MorphoSource, a public database created by Duke University that scientists, educators, students or the curious can mine for 3D data on their species of interest.

"Our goal is to provide data that offer a foothold into vertebrate anatomy across the Tree of Life," said David Blackburn, the projectís lead principal investigator and associate curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, the grantís lead institution. "This is a unique opportunity for museums to have a pretty big reach in terms of the audience that interacts with their collections. We believe oVert will be a transformative project for research and education related to vertebrate biology."

[Research supported by NSF grant DBI 17-01714.]

To learn more about this project, see the Florida Musum story New project allows web users to explore 3-D vertebrate specimens from inside out. (Date image taken: 2016-2017; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Dec. 14, 2017)

Credit: Edward Stanley and David Blackburn, Florida Museum of Natural History
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