Tulane scientist Hank Bart (left) and data engineer Yasin Bakis stand amid jars with fish samples in the Tulane Biodiversity Research Center in Belle Chasse. The two are part of a $ 15 million NSF initiative that is establishing a new field of study called Imageomics. (Photo by Rusty Costanza)
A Tulane University scientist is working with researchers across the country on a $ 15 million National Science Foundation initiative to establish a new area of ââstudy with the potential to transform biomedical, agricultural, and basic biological sciences.
Henry “Hank” Bart, Professor at the Tulane Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), is one of four co-researchers in the team at the Translational Data Analytics Institute (TDAI.) At Ohio State University) . Yasin Bakis, Senior Manager for Biodiversity Informatics and Data Engineer at the BRI, will serve as a member of the staff.
The team will develop the Imageomics Institute, a founding institute for data-intensive discovery in science and technology, founded by the NSF as part of its Harnessing the Data Revolution initiative. The institute will create a new field of imageomics in which scientists will use images of living organisms as the basis for understanding biological processes of life on earth.
Imageomics will use machine learning methods to extract biological features such as an individual’s behavior or physical appearance, or even the characteristic skeletal structure of a species, from images – including photos and videos.
Bart, an expert on freshwater fish and amphibians, will provide expertise on images of specimen fish and will ensure that the species in the images are correctly identified and the metadata associated with the images is correct.
“In the project, we will also work with computer scientists who train computer algorithms or neural networks on how to extract data on phenotypic characteristics of the fish specimens from the images,” said Bart.
“We created cyber infrastructure for a related project that gave researchers access to large caches of images of fish samples that we collected and prepared for research,” he said. “These images will play an important role in the Imageomics Institute.”
As Director of the Tulane Biodiversity Research Institute in Belle Chasse, Bart is the curator of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection, the world’s largest collection of post-larval fish with over 7 million specimens in more than 200,000 glass batches. The collection is housed in two buildings that once housed ammunition for the US Navy, and consists mainly of specimens from the Gulf South region as well as Central America and Mexico.
“There are so many images of organisms of scientific value that we have never been able to analyze at the right scale,” said TDAI Director Tanya Berger-Wolf, senior researcher at the Imageomics Institute and professor of computer science engineering; Electrical and Computer Engineering; and ecology, evolution and organism biology.
âThis will change the way we can see and understand nature. Computers help people “see” images differently and reveal what we might otherwise miss. “
The new institute will use existing imagery from a variety of sources around the world, including digital collections from museums, laboratories, and the NSF-funded, Battelle-operated National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), as well as photos taken by scientists in the field camera traps, drones and even the public who uploaded images to platforms like eBird, iNaturalist and Wildbook.