The Early Earthworm Catches on to Full Data Release - GigaBlog
"To quote the American cartoonist Gary Larson: all things play a role in nature, even the lowly worm—but perhaps never in such a visually stunning way as that presented in two papers published last week in GigaScience and PLOS ONE. The work and data presented here provide the first-ever comparative study of earthworm morphology and anatomy using a 3D non-invasive imaging technique called micro-computed tomography (or microCT), which digitizes worm structures. This opens the possibility of scanning millions of specimens from museum collections, including extinct species, all of which is important given that the earthworm is both a benefit and a bane to ecosystems. Being open access, the stunning high-resolution images, videos and interactive models also can be used as teaching aids and make fantastic resources for understanding worm anatomy (see the screenshot from the PLOS supporting data). From digging in the garden to fishing to playing with worm farms at school, everyone has become aware of the importance of earthworms in maintaining ecosystems and soil quality, but few realize that many earthworm species are invasive and can be a serious threat to their new environment. More difficult yet is distinguishing one worm from another, and with thousands of known species around the globe, differentiating them and resolving their taxonomy is an enormous task. The difficulties in dissecting small, soft-bodied organisms, as well as having access to valuable and rare museum specimens, can make doing so nearly insurmountable. However, the research published by Dr. Rosa Fernández and her colleagues from Harvard University as well as Dr. Alexander Ziegler from Ziegler Biosolutions provides the much-needed tools to carry out such analyses in a non-destructive way and at a significantly quicker pace. Their work combines two- and three-dimensional imaging techniques and shows that commonly used morphological features for defining earthworm taxonomy can now be assessed without the need for dissection. The researchers were able to view the sediment inside the animal in 3D, as well as the internal organs in context with each other. They also compared fresh samples with preserved museum specimens, going as far back as 1945, and revealed that this digital imaging technique is suitable for the analysis of rare museum specimens. On top of releasing beautiful high-resolution videos allowing non-destructive 3D real-time dissection of earthworms, the authors made supporting raw and derived data available in our GigaDB repository, enabling future data mining by researchers, the development of new tools, as well as provision of increased transparency and confidence in the research ..."