Thursday, March 21, 2013

From BOLD to TV

I am sure that many but not all of you know that the database and workbench for DNA Barcode data - BOLD - is also a huge repository for specimen images. Many - unfortunately not all - records on BOLD contain at least one image of the specimen that has been barcoded. The main idea is to enable researchers such as taxonomists to communicate with each other on identifications that are based on morphological differences. In many cases such an image was enough to solve uncertainties in identifications thereby avoiding the shipment of a specimen for comparative work which is costly and always a little risky.

click to enlarge (Photo Vanessa Bouwer)
Images of a record are publicly available and indexed with the big search engines. I see them coming up more and more in Google image searches. This results in some unexpected attention by the media. Recently the team of the Dr. Oz Show contacted us as they found an image on BOLD's taxonomy browser which they wanted to use for a show on parasites. The actual owner of the image was quickly found and yesterday the show was aired.

I am not a big fan of TV shows that exaggerate risks and danger of sickness. Have a look at the trailer and you know what I mean. Don't get me wrong - as far as I know the Dr. Oz show usually does a reasonable good job to explain health issues and how to deal with them. However, this parasite episode overshoot the mark a bit by dramatizing the prevalence of parasites. On the other hand some of the dietary recommendations they make in the show are not bad at all. There is no harm in eating more fiber or garlic for many reasons. I am convinced those are very healthy alternatives but I don't know enough about parasitology to judge if they are also good parasite remedies.

Nevertheless, great to see that the work of colleagues is shown and that they get credit for it. Last year a graduate student at the Natural History Museum in Buenos Aires was contacted by National Geographic Learning. One of his spider photos they found on BOLD made it into a textbook to teach English to children at the primary level around the world. The books have a strong focus on science, nature, and the environment.

And what's the take-home-message of all this?
Don't forget to upload images for all your BOLD records and provide licensing information on them. You never know who might call tomorrow.

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