Forensic entomology is today an increasingly robust science which has its main application in the estimation of the minimum postmortem interval based on the age of necrophagous insects (mainly blowflies) collected from cadavers. However, whilst accurate death time estimations can be inferred from the larval stage of these insects, estimates based on the pupal stage (which accounts for approximately half of the developmental duration) are severely limited due to the lack of a reliable method for aging blowfly pupae. In the recent years, the use of innovative imaging techniques such as micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) and computer-based 3D reconstructions have significantly enhanced research on insect anatomy and development. A recent study demonstrated that micro-CT provides the resolution necessary for describing internal and external morphological changes during metamorphosis. The scientific objectives of MORPHIC are: 1) to document and analyze the morphological changes during metamorphosis at a temporal resolution more than twice the best current estimate, 2) to develop a novel and reliable methodology for aging pupae for forensic purposes by establishing a solid time-frame for the developmental changes which occur during metamorphosis of forensically important blowflies, and 3) to exploit micro-CT research in combination with 3D computer models to create images for teaching and public outreach, providing impressive and interactive reconstructions. Through MORPHIC the applicant will acquire solid practical skills on forensic entomology methods and applications, diversify his expertise with skills on novel imaging techniques of broad application in different areas of research and practice, and develop strategic networks, increasing his opportunities of reaching a permanent position as scientific researcher in Europe. The results of the project will be made available in peer-reviewed publications and through web-based tools to benefit the global community.
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