Photo in the News: Ancient Spider "Digitally Dissected"

3-D scan of ancient spider
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October 30, 2007—The inner workings of a tiny spider are now available for all to see—thanks to a "dissection" method that works without a scalpel or microscope.

David Penney of the University of Manchester and colleagues from Ghent University in Belgium used a technique called very-high-resolution x-ray computed tomography (VHR-CT) to create a 3-D model showing an ancient spider's internal organs in exquisite detail.

The method employs the same technology used in medical CAT scans. But VHR-CT works on much smaller scales, resolving features less than 50 microns in length—around the thickness of a human hair.

That level of detail was necessary, because the team was peering at a male specimen of a newly discovered spider species named Cenotextricella simony that is only about a twentieth of an inch (1.5 millimeters) long.

The arachnid lived around 53 million years ago and was found preserved in amber in an area of France known as the Paris Basin.

"This technique essentially generates full 3-D reconstructions of minute fossils and permits digital dissection of the specimen to reveal the preservation of internal organs," Penney said in a press statement. "This is definitely the way forward for the study of amber fossils."

(Related: "Oldest Known Spiderweb Found in Ancient Amber" [June 22, 2006].)

"Amber provides a unique window into past forest ecosystems," he added. "It retains an incredible amount of information, not just about the spiders themselves, but also about the environment in which they lived."

The team's findings appear in the current issue of the journal Zootaxa.

—Aalok Mehta

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