The diversity of shape in the natural world is not easily described. In biology, natural selection has shaped an extraordinarily broad range of morphologies across multiple scales, from organelle to organism. Systematically linking morphological variation to genetics, development, function, environment, evolution, and diseases can provide key insights into fundamental problems in biology and medicine. Although advances in imaging have led to the rapid accumulation of rich shape data, the computational methods and tools to analyze these data have not kept pace.

Bioshapes is an NSF funded multidisciplinary project whose goal is to make inroads in the challenge of transforming biological shape into information and knowledge. The project will develop data and tools to enable quantitative and systematic investigation of such questions as: How does biological form relate to function? Can we predict physiological function, phylogenetic relationships, or ecological role from shape? How to interpret adaptive responses and radiations in the paleontological record? Are current qualitative taxonomic categories real and consistent? To focus the project, our investigations are guided and informed by four case studies that are representative of the range of morphological problems in the biological sciences:

Bat Ears and NosesMitochondrial Shape
Embryonic HeartsTropical Pollen

This website provides information about the project, including descriptions of the four case studies and open access to data and tools developed by the project. It also includes a list of publications and information about other activities of the group.

We comprise a unique combination of individuals with expertise in mathematics, computational science, engineering, and biology. Our team is divided into four main subgroups:


  • Mathematical methods and computational tools (MCT)

  • Biological case studies (BCS)

  • Visualization and data management (VDM)

  • Dissemination, education, and outreach (DEO)

MCT is responsible for the development of algorithms and computational tools based on biological case studies.

BCS poses questions, provide shape data and biological correlates, and works with MCT in the evaluation and refinement of the algorithms.

VDM provides the infrastructure needed for storing and sharing images, methods and algorithms. VDM, in tandem with DEO, also hosts the BioShapes website, where the goals and the results of the BioShapes group are publicized, and sample datasets and metrics are available for download.

Broader dissemination efforts are coordinated through DEO, with the participation of all group members, and with each investigator serving as representative of the proposed project aims in their respective field. Intensive collaboration and coordination will be critical to fostering synergistic interactions among all investigators throughout the duration of the project.

This collaborative project has published 52 journal articles and 20 conference/workshop papers. The project team trained 31 undergraduate students, 19 graduate students, and 1 postdocs. There are 8 new collaborative projects extend from this initial collaborations.