February 25, 2024

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Digitalising the Australian National Insect Collection

Image Credits: CSIRO, Press Release

In the pursuit of advancing scientific research and accessibility, the Australian National Insect Collection is working to digitise its vast repository of microscope slides containing intricate specimens of insects, mites, nematodes, and even the genitalia of moths. This substantial collection, totalling 12 million specimens, plays a pivotal role in understanding species distributions and insect ecology, particularly those that can spread diseases.

Image Credits: CSIRO, Press Release

Nicole Fisher, the coordinator of digitisation activities, emphasised the primary goal of this ambitious undertaking — to facilitate research. By creating a comprehensive digital database, researchers worldwide will gain unprecedented access to valuable information about the specimens, including details of when and where they were collected.

Fisher explained the meticulous process of digitisation, involving photographing each microscope slide and utilising optical character recognition to extract handwritten or typed information. However, this process comes with its challenges, such as faded or discoloured writing, etched surfaces, and information on the underside of slides.

The digitisation effort involves assigning a unique number to each microscope slide, repairing damaged slides, and ensuring that the entire collection becomes searchable in the digital realm. Once completed, the database will provide insights into the exact number of microscope slides, the species they represent, and the information documented on them.

Photographer Ryan Main, who previously worked on digitising the Australian National Herbarium, describes the efficiency of capturing photos but acknowledges the profound significance of the project. He highlighted the decades of work represented by each microscope slide and envisioned a future where people worldwide can explore this extensive collection. Given the sheer volume of slides, Ryan occasionally captures entire trays, subsequently digitally separating individual slides. Despite this efficiency, digitising the microscope slides of flies alone took more than six months.

The digitisation initiative aligns with a broader transition for the Australian National Insect Collection and the Australian National Wildlife Collection. Both collections are relocating to a new facility at CSIRO in Canberra, marking a significant move from old cabinets to new ones. Nicole Fisher expresses anticipation for the opening of the new building early next year, which will coincide with the unveiling of a fully digitised microscope slide collection. This transition promises increased accessibility for researchers, with cleaner glass figuratively awaiting them on the other side.

The endeavour to digitise the microscope slides is not merely about preserving physical specimens but also holds particular importance for the study of insect genitalia. The collection includes genitalia from 36,000 moths, aiding in the differentiation of species.

This meticulous focus on insect genitalia proves invaluable in describing new species, as exemplified by the Sapphire Azure Butterfly. This recently discovered species, native to Queensland and endangered due to land clearing, relies on the meticulous identification facilitated by the study of its genitalia.

The ambitious digitisation project, backed by joint funding from CSIRO and the Department of Education through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, represents a significant technological leap. The infusion of digital technologies not only preserves the historical value of the specimens but also positions the collection as a dynamic resource for contemporary and future research. As the microscope slides are meticulously catalogued in the digital domain, scientists and enthusiasts alike can look forward to exploring the intricate world of insects from the comfort of their screens.

PARTNER

Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

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CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

Since 1972, CTC has established itself as one of the country’s top IT solutions providers. With 50 years of experience, headed by an experienced management team and staffed by over 200 qualified IT professionals, we support organizations with integrated IT solutions expertise in Autonomous IT, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Well-known for our strengths in system integration and consultation, CTC Global proves to be the preferred IT outsourcing destination for organizations all over Singapore today.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATION

SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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