ADVANTAGES: Computerized 3D reconstructions are not new, but most either focus only on humans, show only bone structure, or donýt allow the user to interact with the sample or customize it to his or her specific needs. MorphologyNet enables the user not just to study a 3D representation of a frog, for example, but also to remove each layer entirely, dissecting the image as he or she would a real frog in a biology laboratory. Users can slice the image into as many layers as they like, and even rotate it 360 degrees in any direction, using any form of Web browser. One day the site could allow researchers to determine the effects of pesticides on declining amphibian populations.
WHAT CAUSES DEFORMITIES IN FROGS: In a given population, if 5 percent or fewer of frogs have malformations, that is natural, but there are populations where 70 percent show deformities. Researchers are trying to understand what outside source is causing the frogs to develop abnormally, resulting in diminishing populations around the world. Among the factors that have been studied are climate changes, such as global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer, which can result in overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. Habitat destruction is also a factor, as is pollution: frogs absorb water directly through their skin, so they are vulnerable to water pollutants like pesticides and acid rain.
WHAT IS BIOINFORMATICS: Bioinformatics is the field of science in which biology, computer science and information technology merge into a single discipline. The major advances in molecular biology and genomics have resulted in an explosive growth in biological information. Bioinformatics was born of the need for computerized databases to store, organize, index, and analyze the data.
FROG OR TOAD: Technically speaking, frogs and toads the same. The name "toad" is generally given to those with dry, warty skin and short hind legs for walking instead of jumping. Those with smooth moist skin and strong webbed hind legs for swimming and jumping are typically described as "frogs." Frogs usually live in moist climates and lay their eggs in clusters, while toads live in drier climates and lay their eggs in long chains. But there's not a clear-cut distinction: many species fit equally well into both categories.
ON THE WEB: Visit MorphologyNet.org
The Biophysical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.