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Aries the Wonder Sheep

Ever wanted to see inside a sheep -- without the blood and guts?

The easy way is to dissect an animal is to use the latest scanning technology, a computer, and a sheep called Aries. Aries is a digital sheep, created by AgResearch Invermay scientist Dr Neville Jopson and three Taieri High School students using a CT scanner.

A CT scanner gives cross-sectional images which give excellent discrimination between the soft tissues like muscle and fat of the body. Usually found in hospitals, CT scanners are being used more and more for scanning in animal studies. AgResearch Invermay is using a scanner for research into producing lean sheep.

Taieri High School science students Shaun Brookes, Stephanie Sparrow and Steven Wilson spent their school holidays at AgResearch Invermay in an Industry-School Enterprise Scheme, which is designed to give senior students hands-on experience in the workplace while the industry has a useful project completed.

Their job was to build Aries the Digital Sheep, which is basically a computer package consisting of 19 CT scan images collected at 50-millimetre intervals through the sheep's body. Each image may be overlaid with labels of the major organs or structures viewed. A description of each structure is included in a searchable database.

The three students labelled images, such as the heart, ribs and skin, from a book of CT scans of a sheep. They then listed all these organs and their alternative names, defined each one, and entered the information into a database.

Jopson describes it as an on-line anatomical atlas of a sheep. Not only will it be extremely useful to him for demonstration purposes when showing people around CT scanning facilities, it also provides an essential training tool for teaching new staff image analysis.

The computer-aided learning program will also be a valuable way of interactively teaching students aspects of structure and function in the body of the sheep.

They simply need to click the computer mouse onto any part of a picture of the Aries sheep, and the CT image closest to that point will be seen. The "movie" function of this software automatically scrolls through the entire body from the head to the tail to observe how organs change longitudinally through the body.

This program is available to educational organisations, and can be obtained from AgResearch Invermay for $20, which covers the cost of disks, postage and handling.