New technique captures detailed 3D scans of live insects

Researchers have imaged whole live insects using a technique called X-ray micro-computed tomography (micro-CT).

Imaging whole live insects is challenging because of the radiation doses required to obtain the images and the movement of the insects, compromising image quality - so most research involving involving invertebrates imaging requires animal sacrifice.  

But in a new study, researchers used carbon dioxide gas to anesthetize the insects to prevent them from moving during 3D visualization, and according to the researchers, the method had very little impact on the insects' longevity.  

3D-CT reconstruction (20 micrometer resolution) showing the internal structures of a live anesthetized male true armyworm at 1 (sexually immature) and 4 (sexually mature) days old. Top: 3D-volume of the male (♂) body exoskeleton. Middle: 3D-MPR (multi-planar reformatted) views of the whole body showing the internal structures; and Bottom: The tracheal system

3D-CT reconstruction (20 micrometer resolution) showing the internal structures of a live anesthetized male true armyworm at 1 (sexually immature) and 4 (sexually mature) days old. Top: 3D-volume of the male (♂) body exoskeleton. Middle: 3D-MPR (multi-planar reformatted) views of the whole body showing the internal structures; and Bottom: The tracheal system

In order to image live insects, the researchers say it's crucial to fully immobilize them, deliver a low-enough radiation dose to allow for repeated scans of the same individuals for time-relevant studies, and provide adequate image resolution and quality to distinguish internal structures.  

The researchers, based at the University of Western Ontario, scanned Colorado potato beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) and true armyworms (Pseudaletia unipuncta).

HOW THEY DID THE STUDY  

The researchers, based at the University of Western Ontario, scanned Colorado potato beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) and true armyworms (Pseudaletia unipuncta). 

The study relied on giving carbon dioxide gas to insects to induce hypoxia - oxygen deficient conditions.

The insects were placed in a custom designed tube for micro-CT scanning, and a syringe filter was attached to the tube's open end to deliver the carbon dioxide gas. 

Schematic of the new experimental set-up summarizing the incorporation of carbon dipxides gas as anesthetic during X-ray micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) of live insect imaging. The insects were placed in a tube (pictured) for the micro-CT scanning

Schematic of the new experimental set-up summarizing the incorporation of carbon dipxides gas as anesthetic during X-ray micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) of live insect imaging. The insects were placed in a tube (pictured) for the micro-CT scanning

The experiment relied on the fact that these insects in particular have remarkable abilities ti survive prolonged hypoxia and ionising radiation doses - at least 100 times more than the lethal dose for humans. 

This approach allowed the researchers to keep the live insects still for a prolonged period of time - up to 7 hours - while repeatedly scanning the same insect using X-ray micro-computed

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