, Volume 130, Issue 4, pp 227–254 | Cite as

Application of magnetic resonance imaging in zoology

  • Alexander Ziegler
  • Martin Kunth
  • Susanne Mueller
  • Christian Bock
  • Rolf Pohmann
  • Leif Schröder
  • Cornelius Faber
  • Gonzalo Giribet
Review Article


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive imaging technique that today constitutes one of the main pillars of preclinical and clinical imaging. MRI’s capacity to depict soft tissue in whole specimens ex vivo as well as in vivo, achievable voxel resolutions well below (100 μm)3, and the absence of ionizing radiation have resulted in the broad application of this technique both in human diagnostics and studies involving small animal model organisms. Unfortunately, MRI systems are expensive devices and have so far only sporadically been used to resolve questions in zoology and in particular in zoomorphology. However, the results from two recent studies involving systematic scanning of representative species from a vertebrate group (fishes) as well as an invertebrate taxon (sea urchins) suggest that MRI could in fact be used more widely in zoology. Using novel image data derived from representative species of numerous higher metazoan clades in combination with a comprehensive literature survey, we review and evaluate the potential of MRI for systematic taxon scanning. According to our results, numerous animal groups are suitable for systematic MRI scanning, among them various cnidarian and arthropod taxa, brachiopods, various molluscan taxa, echinoderms, as well as all vertebrate clades. However, various phyla in their entirety cannot be considered suitable for this approach mainly due to their small size (e.g., Kinorhyncha) or their unfavorable shape (e.g., Nematomorpha), while other taxa are prone to produce artifacts associated either with their biology (e.g., Echiura) or their anatomy (e.g., Polyplacophora). In order to initiate further uses of MRI in zoology, we outline the principles underlying various applications of this technique such as the use of contrast agents, in vivo MRI, functional MRI, as well as magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Finally, we discuss how future technical developments might shape the use of MRI for the study of zoological specimens.


MRI High-throughput Noninvasive Metazoa Three-dimensional NMR 







Blood–brain barrier


Blood oxygenation level-dependent


Contrast agent


Confocal laser scanning microscopy


Chemical shift imaging


Computed tomography


Diffusion tensor imaging


Diffusion-weighted imaging


Fast low-angle shot


Field Museum of Natural History


Functional magnetic resonance imaging


Field of view


RARE factor


Fast spoiled gradient echo


Manganese-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging


Magnetic resonance


Magnetic resonance imaging


Magnetic resonance spectroscopy


Average number


Nuclear magnetic resonance


Optical projection tomography


Positron emission tomography


Rapid acquisition with relaxation enhancement


Spin echo


Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Signal-to-noise ratio


Acquisition time


Echo time


Repetition time


Turbo spin echo


Micro-computed tomography


Zoologisches Museum Berlin


Zoologisches Museum Hamburg



We would like to thank Thomas Bartolomaeus (Bonn, Germany), Sven Gemballa (Tübingen, Germany), Matthias Glaubrecht (Berlin, Germany), Alexander Gruhl (London, United Kingdom), Alexander Haas (Hamburg, Germany), Markus Koch (Bonn, Germany), Janina Lehrke (Bonn, Germany), Carsten Lüter (Berlin, Germany), Christian Müller (Frankfurt, Germany), Thomas Stach (Berlin, Germany), and Esther Ullrich-Lüter (Berlin, Germany) for specimen supply. We also gratefully acknowledge editorial support by Christopher Witte (Berlin, Germany). Bivalve research was supported by AToL grants from the National Science Foundation, USA, to Rüdiger Bieler (#0732854), Paula M. Mikkelsen (#0732860), and Gonzalo Giribet (#0732903). We are grateful to Thomas Bartolomaeus, Doug Eernisse and one anonymous reviewer for their supportive comments on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander Ziegler
    • 1
  • Martin Kunth
    • 2
  • Susanne Mueller
    • 3
  • Christian Bock
    • 4
  • Rolf Pohmann
    • 5
  • Leif Schröder
    • 2
  • Cornelius Faber
    • 6
  • Gonzalo Giribet
    • 1
  1. 1.Museum of Comparative Zoology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare PharmakologieBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Centrum für SchlaganfallforschungCharité-Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und MeeresforschungBremerhavenGermany
  5. 5.Max-Planck-Institut für Biologische KybernetikTübingenGermany
  6. 6.Institut für Klinische RadiologieUniversitätsklinikum MünsterMünsterGermany

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