Freshman Bioinformatics major at Loyola University
REU Mentor: Dr. Scott Lidgard (Associate Curator, Geology)
Symposium Presentation Title: Bryozoan Biodiversity on the Web (Lophotrochozoa: Bryozoa)
Symposium Presentation Abstract: Utilizing the internet for disseminating and exchanging biodiversity data creates new ways for scientists to collaborate and conduct research. Current online databases output queries more effectively than any non-automated searching method, allowing researchers to spend less time retrieving data and more time analyzing it. In the case of understudied taxa, this online collaboration yields faster progress toward an understanding of their biodiversity and systematics, bringing them closer to the level of better-known taxa. Bryozoans are among the more understudied taxa with a small research community, and the Bryozoan Biodiversity on the Web project aims to enhance research for bryozoan specialists by making taxonomic, systematic, bibliographic, photographic, and biogeographic data pertaining to Bryozoans accessible on a website.
The timeline for the project divides the research into five main phases: 1) Combine bryozoan data from multiple sources into one large database 2) Use the Drupal content management system to create a website that hosts the database content 3) Develop modules for the content management system using the Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) programming language to accommodate taxonomic and biodiversity data 4) Engage an initial group of website users that will test the functionalities of the bryozoan website 5) Expand website access to the bryozoan research community and the general public. Current progress is nearing 60% completion of phase one.
Phase one relies heavily on PHP scripts to semi-automate solutions to data discrepancies and to unify the data from multiple bryozoan databases. Bioinformatics programs were created to restructure data tables that do not adhere to database design principles. Though the project remains in the initial phase, results of phase one will in be beneficial to the bryozoan research community. Having a unified database allows researchers to obtain maximal data from one source. The completion of the remaining phases will make access to this database more expedient.
Original Project Description: This project (www.bryozone.net) is the further development of a global reference for a large phylum of marine and freshwater animals, the Bryozoa. BryoZone is a relational database that grew out of The Bryozoa Home Page (www.bryozoa.net), over 4,000 hyperlinked html pages of taxonomy, morphology, scanning microscopy images, and references. Both sites serve the international community of bryozoan researchers in evolution, ecology and systematics. Bryozoans are quite unlike most animals, in that many asexually budded modules, or zooids, comprise the colonial body of a single genetic individual. Much of their taxonomy is based on the fact that these modules can be different morphologically, even though they are identical genetically. Their rich fossil record records the evolution of complexity in zooid polymorphism. Their presence in all the world's oceans and freshwater as habitats for fishes and countless numbers of invertebrates that live on and in their colonies attests to their important roles in benthic ecosystems and our comprehension of marine biodiversity. However, their zooids are small, their taxonomy is complex, and they are grossly understudied. BryoZone is about overcoming these obstacles. Our goal this summer is to design and re-program BryoZone to include online contributions and editing of systematic information, bibliographies, images, distribution records, a glossary and more. We are currently evaluating the revision plan, based on open-source MySQL and Ruby/Rails or Drupal.
Research methods and techniques: REU participants in the project will receive an introduction to bryozoan morphology and systematics. They will also receive instruction and hands-on experience in biodiversity database design practices, and strategies for accommodating systematic and biogeographic analyses of species morphology, biomolecular data, and geographic occurrences. They will actively participate in designing, programming, and testing phases of this biodiversity database revision. Depending upon their levels of expertise, they may have the opportunity to co-develop a software product for disambiguating taxonomic names in complex historical nomenclatures (e.g. synonymies), to be made available to the broader cyber-taxonomy community. Time permitting, we will accept and integrate a wealth of bryozoan data and images that are awaiting this revised project's completion.