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    Micro-CT of a Sea Star

    Micro-CT for Digital Dissections of Biological Samples

    Micro-CT is increasingly used by biologists to describe, compare, and identify new species. Micro-CT’s noninvasive nature means that even extinct examples can be virtually dissected without harming precious specimens. In the case of sea stars, commonly called starfish, there are more than 2,000 species living in the oceans, and new species are still being identified from living as well as extinct specimens. In order to determine the species of a sea star, micro-Ct can be used to virtually remove the outer skin and study the microstructure. The data and images obtained can help define the anatomy of the sea star’s body wall and to study the body wall tissue composites.

    For our study this month, we utilized our large volume SkyScan 1173 desktop scanner to non-destructively visualize a sea star sample.

    Figure 1: Cross sectional views of a sea star

    Micro-CT Scan of a Sea Star

    Utilizing the reconstructed X-ray attenuation data, two-dimensional views through the sea star were generated (Figure 1). While many biological samples are inherently non-planar, useful information on local regions within the samples are still evident. Additionally, the ability of DataViewer to reorient samples interactively on the fly when working with reconstructed datasets allows users to further refine the planar views.

    Figure 2: Reconstructed three-dimensional cross-section views of a sea star

    For a broader qualitative view of the sea star than is available in the planar two-dimensional views, the reconstructed images also provide a full three-dimensional rendering of the sea star using CTVox. This three-dimensional rendering can be positioned and sliced as needed to provide greater dimensional context to the internal features (Figure 2). In this case, we can digitally dissect the sample to gain visual information on the microstructures of the sample, which can be used for further identification and studies.


    Micro-CT is being rapidly adopted in fields ranging from structural biology and material science to geology, odontology, and many other manufacturing industries. We hope you found this Image of the Month informative. If you have an Image of the Month sample that you would like us to scan, please contact us by calling Seth Hogg at 610-366-7103 or e-mailing

    Scan Specifications

    Sample Sea Star
    Voltage (kV) 100
    Current (µA) 80
    Pixel Size (µm) 35
    Rotation Step 0.3
    Scan Time (HH:MM:SS) 04:04:18

    This scan was completed on our large volume SkyScan 1173 micro-CT system at the Micro Photonics Imaging Laboratory in Allentown, PA. Reconstructions were completed using NRecon and visualization of 2D and 3D results were completed using DataViewer and CTVox.

    Results are shared with permission from the original research scientist, Angela Jones, of the Bourdeau Research Group within the Biological Sciences Department of Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA.

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