MorphoSource platform uses X-ray images to let researchers study dead specimens

lemur digital museum
Keven Law / Flickr
Browse the exhibits in your nearest natural history museum and you will find a medley of different specimens, from contemporary insects to extinct species, microscopic organisms, and even nonbiological artifacts. “They don’t discriminate about what they have in the collection,” evolutionary anthropologist Doug Boyer told Digital Trends. “Any specimen that contributes to the understanding of natural history is accepted.”

Boyer and his team at Duke University are trying to replicate the contents of natural history museums in digital form through MorphoSource. They hope the platform will help preserve the bodies of endangered species for scientists from around the world to study.

“You can say MorphoSource is like a virtual museum,” he said. “Anything you can catalog in a natural history museum you can catalog a 3D version of.”

Boyer’s particular line of research is aimed at understanding the very beginnings of primate evolution, which leads his lab toward studying ancient fossils. However, research has shown that some of today’s most endangered primates have a lot in common with our earliest ancestors.

“Fossils from this early time period are quite a bit similar to the endangered primates of Madagascar,” Boyer said. “In a lot of ways, lemurs are a throwback to the beginning of primate evolution. That means having a good sample of their skeletons, how they vary, and how their anatomy is distinctive is very important to understanding these fossils. So a lot of the work we do focuses on how the life ways of these lemurs are reflected by their skeletons.”

To that end, Boyer’s lab has set out to scan recently deceased primate specimens, such as lemurs and aye-aye, and release the scans to researchers around the world via the MorphoSource platform. In this way, scientists don’t need physical access to the specimens to conduct anatomical studies — they can virtually dissect the animals in the afterlife.

“We realized that if we could create a 3D-virtual replica of these specimens and put them online, people could save a lot of time and money and better document their research data so they wouldn’t have to go to these museums,” Boyer said.

Though MorphoSource is open access, Boyer stressed that it is aimed is research. Nonetheless, anyone will be able to view the digitized animals and download raw data to 3D print the specimens. So far, his lab has partnered with the Duke Lemur Center to compile the largest collection of 3D lemur scans.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, Boyer was quoted as referring to the “light waves” reflected by a lemur’s skeleton. He actually said  “life ways,” as a synonym for “ecological niche.”

Emerging Tech

Light-swallowing room promises Call of Duty fans the blackest of ops

What's it like to be in a room fully painted with the world's darkest material, Vantablack? The makers of one of the year's top video games teamed up with Vantablack scientists to find out.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Product Review

Audi's new A8 is so sophisticated and serene, it practically deletes potholes

The 2019 Audi A8’s outline looks promising: Level 3 autonomous driving capability, haptic-feedback infotainment screens, rear-wheel steering, Matrix LED headlights and OLED taillights, plus a predictive suspension.
Home Theater

I’ve seen the 8K TV future, and you should be excited. Here’s why

Samsung set the tech world on fire when it announced it would sell an 85-inch 8K TV in the U.S. along with several 8K screen sizes in Europe. Debates over the validity and value of such a high resolution have continued since, and we're here…
Wearables

Skydio’s self-flying drone now has an Apple Watch app for flight prep

Skydio's clever R1 autonomous drone now has its own Apple Watch app, making flight preparations simpler than ever. The $2,000 flying machine is now also selling at its first retail outlet — Apple Stores in North America.
Emerging Tech

Scientists created a condom that self-lubricates during sex. You’re welcome

Researchers from Boston University have invented a special coating for condoms which make them respond to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery. Here's how their new breakthrough works.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

You’re so vein: Palm-based biometric system could help confirm your identity

Move over, Face ID! The next biometric security systems could rely on analyzing the unique vein patterns in your palm print. Here are some of the ways the technology could prove useful.
Emerging Tech

For only $4,950, you can get jetpack lessons from the world’s only instructor

Have you ever dreamed of flying using a jetpack? JetPack Aviation founder -- and the world's only qualified jetpack teacher -- David Mayman is now offering a day of flight instruction.
Emerging Tech

Biologists have found a hormone that could make space farming possible

Researchers have shown how space farming may be possible. By encouraging plants to excrete a certain hormone, they’ve demonstrated that crops can thrive despite challenging conditions, such as low-nutrient soil and microgravity.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high tech and under budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…
Emerging Tech

When tech goes wrong: Banksy’s shredder was meant to totally destroy his artwork

Banksy's recent auction stunt was meant to totally destroy one of his most famous pieces of work, but a fault with the shredder has left the buyer with something almost certainly worth far more than the $1 million she bid for it.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.