A team of researchers has announced their plans to scan and digitize more than the 25, 000 fish species found all over the world. They want to create a digital library of 3-D images of fish and their skeletons, which will be available for free to all.
Adam Summers, a biology professor at the University of Washington, was, until recently, using the computed tomography (CT) scanners found in hospitals to study the inner structure of certain fish like the stingray. But thanks, in part, to private donors, he managed to raise $340, 000 to buy a CT scanner for his Friday Harbor Laboratory on San Juan Island.
Before the development of CT scanners, if you wanted to examine the skeleton of a certain animal you would first have to let it die or just kill it. But now the scanners offer a non-invasive method for studying inner structures as the it takes X-ray images from various angles and combines into 3-D images.
His ambition to scan all the species of fish in the world started when he developed a way to scan multiple fish at once. This method reduced the time needed to accomplish such a task from 50 years to only a few years.
“It wasn’t just a joke anymore. We could actually say it and have a hope of actually getting every fish scanned.”
Summers uploads every scan to his free database on a sharing website, Open Science Framework. Until now, the database is comprised of around 515 fish scans, from sculpins to poachers, and various fish from museum collections. He invited others to add their scans to the database which some researchers have already used to make computer models and animate the fish. Before this initiative, if you wanted fish scans you would have to pay between $500 and $2,000.
Scientists like Summers have started this project because they want to better understand how fish work.
“One of the very, very useful things is to understand exactly what the skeleton looks like. It is shockingly complex. Your skull is just a few bones. Fish skulls are dozens and dozens of bones.”
He is hoping that his work could help others learn about various fish species, how they function and discover new ideas like designing an underwater vehicle based on the structure of fish skeletons.
Image source: Pexels