Crayons, a tool of modern science?

well, maybe not modern science, but some kinds of science can seem a little like art (in my case, kindergarten-level art).  So, you might ask, what has inspired my reversion to the use of intensely colored sticks of wax?  The intricacies of snail guts.

Remember when I told you I was sectioning critters to learn about the details of their insides? Well that process results in lots of slides that look like this:

a slice of one of my practice patellogastropods

So, as you can imagine, we can get a lot of detailed information out of these slides, but in this form, it’s difficult to envision how all the different parts of the animal fit together in three dimensions.  This is where the crayons come in.  There are more high-tech ways of of visualizing 3D anatomy, for instance the use of AMIRA, which makes interactive 3D anatomy reconstructions, and I will be learning how to use in germany next year.

However, I am starting with the traditional method, which gives a coarser, but much quicker result.

This is how it goes: You take a photo of every 5th section or so, print them out, then go through each one and identify the different parts, and outline them in a designated color for each organ. For instance, I outlined all the cross sections of intestines in blue.

I do this for each slice of the critter, color coding each organ

Then, you go back through your now color-coded photos and make the connections between each section in your head and then on paper by sketching the way a particular system is connected from the front to the back of the critter.

The digestive system of Pyropelta, a hydrothermal vent limpet

Then you do that for each organ system on different layers or tracing paper like this:

with the gonads (reproductive organs, testis and ovary since this is a hermaphrodite), shell muscle, and gill.

Then the next step is to scan my sketches into a graphics program, make it look a little cleaner and more accurate and voila, you have a figure for your publication. Sorry I’m not at that point with this one yet, so can’t show you what this one would look like. And of course these aren’t all the organs, I’ stuck on the nervous system right now, it’s pretty tricky trying to reconstruct all those nerves running through the slices, I hope I can make some progress in these last few days I have here in Tokyo.

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