ANTSCAN and 3D ants: the connection of phenotypes with genotypes through next-generation phenomics
Francisco Hita Garcia, Georg Fischer , Evan P. Economo
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan; Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan ; Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan
The advent and rise of molecular sequencing and analyses techniques of the last two decades have revolutionized our understanding of evolution. Recently, increasingly more extensive datasets based on transcriptomes or full genomes are becoming available and provide robust reconstructions of all levels of the tree of life. However, the study of phenotypes has remained rather slow and presently suffers from a significant gap of scalability between morphological and genomic data, both in size and acquisition speed. The knowledge of morphological modifications through time is crucial for the reconstruction of complex evolutionary scenarios but such data is scarce and unavailable for most taxa. Recent technological advances have opened new possibilities for interactive and three-dimensional (3D) imagery, of which x-ray microtomography (micro-CT) is the most prominent. Micro-CT enables non-invasive, high-resolution, detailed 3D analyses of morphological structures down to nanometre resolution and the digitization of tissues, organs, or whole specimens. Such extraordinary wealth of morphological data and new ways to analyse it open up new possibilities to study evolutionary morphology while connecting phenomic with genomic data in an unprecedented way. ANTSCAN is a new project based at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan, which will be performed in close collaboration with the Global Ant Genome Alliance (GAGA). The aim is to provide high-resolution, 3D full anatomical datasets of all castes from all species used for genome sequencing by GAGA. Through an improved staining and scanning workflow ANTSCAN is able to rapidly generate extensive morphological datasets that are linked to genomic data from GAGA. Such synthesis of phenomic and genomic data is unique in invertebrate zoology and is likely to become the foundation for numerous studies trying to understand the diversity, ecology, and evolution of ants in particular and social insects in general.