Want to print a Malagasy dwarf chameleon? Or maybe a Tanzanian screeching frog?
Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the Open Vertebrate (Overt) project is currently in the process of scanning somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 fluid-preserved vertebrate specimens through the work of institutions across the United States. Overall, the specimens constitute over 80 percent of living vertebrate categories.
The scanned data will be made freely available on the MorphoSource platform hosted by Duke University — providing unprecedented global access to museum collection specimens, and enhancing the research value of specimens currently stored in the NSF-funded Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) resource.
Overt will also provide both raw anatomical tomography data for specific research requirements and an online library of 3D models that can be viewed, downloaded, manipulated and 3D printed for non-commercial uses such as research and education. The library will work similarly to the freely accessible sculpture collection at Scan the World, a community-built “museum of the future” hosted by 3D-printable objects platform MyMiniFactory.
Scanning began in August at the Florida Museum of Natural History, home to University of Florida faculty member and Overt project leader David Blackburn. Employing the nondestructive technology of computed tomography (CT) for scanning, high-resolution digital anatomical data can be generated to reveal a specimen inside and out: its skeleton, muscles, circulatory and nervous systems, internal organs, parasites, eggs, and stomach contents. Some specimens are also being scanned with contrast-enhancing scans to characterize soft tissues.
Once scanned, data can be represented as 2D image stacks of internal anatomy, or 3D surfaces of individual body parts or entire animals. “Stacked CT scans have never been freely available on this scale before,” said Luke Welton, a researcher responsible for the Overt project at the University of Kansas. “Having the digital data or a 3D replica there can really be a game changer for students who do better in a hands-on learning environment.”