Friday, February 05, 2010

The people behind the paper

I thought it might be interesting for readers to hear about how our recent paper came together and especially who the people are behind the names. A while back, samples of Halipeurus lice landed on Rod Page's desk. As a postdoc in his lab, I was charged with storing them in the freezer and entering the relevant data in the now defunct lousebase, although the data is now available on Google Docs.
Ruth Brown, a PhD student at the time working at the Zoological Institute London, had sent the samples, suggesting that it would be interesting to sequence them. The specimen came from the Trindade petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana) on Round Island (near Mauritius) where she had been working for her thesis. The presence of this petrel on Round Island was probably a recent colonisation as there were no records of the petrel on the island prior to the 1960s.
I did not realize why it would be interesting to do this sequencing until I met Leandro Bugoni from Brazil. He was just finishing his PhD at the University of Glasgow with Bob Furness. He had been working on the Trindade petrel on Trindade Island (near Brazil). Interestingly, they had found little difference between these two island bird populations whether it was based on genetic markers, morphology or calls and yet they hosted different lice species.
We knew this thanks to the expert identification skills of Ricardo Palma based at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and whom I had collaborated with before on Pectinopygus lice on pelicans.
What we did not know, was how these two lice species were related, how divergent they were and their origin. Had they always been associated with the Trindade Petrel? Had they recently parasitized one of the bird populations?
Fortunately, a friendly Faroese MRes student, Sjudur Hammer, chose my suggested project proposal and did all the lab work. He copped very well in the lab and managed to get some good quality sequences for the Halipeurus lice from both islands.
And voila! We published what I think is a cool cospeciation study of lice and gadfly petrels and it was a pleasure to collaborate with such an international group of researchers.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Image searching

I have been trying to find images on the web that will match images that I upload and I have come across a few cool websites.
To start with there is pixolu. Although it doesn't enable you to upload an image, it lets you search for particular key words and then select the types of images that you would like. Using these images, it then refines the search to find images similar to those that you have selected. I thought it was a very nifty tool. This is quite similar to Google Similar Image, except that it has a nicer interface and a lot of images in the Google Similar don't actually have a similar even though the same image in pixolu does.
Then there is retrievr which still doesn't let you upload an image but you can squiggle something in a box an it will find similar images on the web. I was impressed to find that when I did a very rough drawing of a tulip, the search did pull up an image of a tulip (see the screenshot).

But something like Gazopa was what I was really looking for. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as well as I would hope. Even though the image I upload is available on Flickr, it doesn't actually find it. It does do a good job at finding images with similar colours (see screenshot).

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