Digitization TCN: Collaborative Research: oVert: Open Exploration of Vertebrate Diversity in 3D
The oVert (openVertebrate) Thematic Collection Network (TCN) will generate and serve high-resolution digital three-dimensional (3D) data for internal anatomy across vertebrate diversity. Via a network of digitization centers across the US, more than 20,000 fluid-preserved specimens representing over 80% of the living genera of vertebrates will be CT-scanned. This will provide broad coverage for exploration and research on all major groups of vertebrates. Contrast-enhanced scans will be generated that reveal soft tissues and organs. This collection of digital imagery and three-dimensional volumes will be open for exploration, download, and use to address questions related to the discovery of new species, documenting patterns of anatomical diversity and growth, and testing hypotheses of function and evolution. The resource will provide unprecedented global access to valuable specimens in US museum collections and will develop best practices and guidelines for high-throughput CT-scanning, including efficient workflows, preferred resolutions, and archival formats that optimize the variety of downstream applications. Museum specialists will be trained on the generation, curation, and distribution of 3D data, researchers in using 3D anatomical data, and high school and undergraduate students in the tools for creating 3D anatomical models. To drive the use of these digital specimens by K-12 STEM educators, teacher-driven workshops that generate freely available lesson plans focused on specific science standards that are based on digital and printed 3D models of specimens in US museum collections. Data generated by oVert will serve as a catalyst for diverse research projects focused on understanding the vertebrate morphological diversity and will dramatically increase the accessibility of specimens housed in US scientific collections. These anatomical phenotypes represent a common currency that facilitates integration across the fields of taxonomy, evolution, developmental biology, comparative physiology, functional anatomy, paleontology, and ecology. The x-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning gemerates high-resolution digital anatomical data, represented as both 2D image stacks and 3D volumes and surfaces. With these 3D digital specimens, US and international research communities will be able to (1) diagnose, describe, and infer patterns of relationships among both living and extinct vertebrates, (2) test hypotheses of morphological evolution such as patterns of disparity, modularity, and phenotype-environment correlations, (3) develop structure-function models for testing hypotheses about morphological adaptations related to, e.g., feeding and locomotion, and (4) explore relationships between brain and nervous system anatomy and both sensory and musculoskeletal function. The 3D data will be distributed globally through MorphoSource, an on-line data repository for 3D biological specimen data, which will capture standardized metadata, ingest legacy data from previous and existing projects, and will supply media information to data aggregators including iDigBio (www.idigbio.org). Training workshops, both on-site at participating institutions and national society meetings of scientists and educators are planned to foster innovation and capabilities for users of 3D image data.