Distributed public domain databases (DPDD) of biological information on Internet:
An Introduction of a Color Image Database for Japanese Ants

5. Creation of a color image database for Japanese ants

We have worked to establish a Japanese ants picture database and put it on a computer network, jointly with the Myrmecological Society of Japan, keeping in mind the issues discussed above.
Before the photo database project was created, the Myrmecological Society of Japan published Guides for the Identification of Japanese Ants (I, II, III), which include more than 250 species of identified ants. They were intended for use by researchers and interested members of the general public. To prepare for publication of picture books covering these species of ants, we photographed collected ants. Since the body colors of ants change after death, the ants were anesthetized when their pictures were taken. Subsequently, we began preparing a database of Japanese ants. The members of this project live in various districts of Japan, from Hokkaido to Kyushu. They meet only once or twice a year. Most of the communications, discussion and data exchange among the members, related to the creation of the database, are carried out on a computer network, using the mailing list function.

1) History of the database creation
Because the manuscripts of the Guides for the Identification of Japanese Ants I,II and III and the List of References on Japanese Ants [14] were available in the form of text files, we use them as the text data for species identification and comments that were included in the database.
We studied various means of converting the images (color slides) into digital information, and came to the conclusion that the photo CD services, which had been started by Kodak, would provide the highest image quality and would be the easiest method of conversion. Each photo CD disk can store a maximum of 100 pictures. Although only one image file is prepared for each picture, the interface for photo CD provides 5 image resolution that can be displayed (192 x 128, 384 x 256, 768 x 512, 1536 x 1024 and 3027 x 2048 pixels).
During the database creation processes, about 2000 pictures (4 CDs x 100 image x 5 resolutions) were stored on 4 photo CDs. Of the 5 resolutions, the highest resolution image file (3027 x 2048 pixels) was eliminated because this resolution cannot be displayed on conventional personal computer screen. The data for the other four image resolutions was compressed by means of GIF or JPEG and stored on a single CD-ROM, together with the hyper-texts we will describe later. An RCD-202 (Pinnacle Micro) was used for the production of the CD-ROM. To date, only a CD-ROM formatted for the Macintosh has been prepared. In the future, a CD-ROM for other platforms will also be developed.
We initially planned to distribute the photo database in the form of a CD-ROM. However, during the course of our work towards this goal, we found that the contents of the database should be expanded or renewed as research advances, and that it would be desirable to distribute the database on computer networks. We have thus decided to make the database available in the form of CD-ROM and also on the computer network.
The next problem we faced was software. Our work did not proceed smoothly at first, because there was no appropriate software for controlling the large quantity of graphic data. Although database software specially designed for images was commercially available, we decided not to use it because it was too extensive to allow our database to be accessible by a large number of users. Therefore, we began to create a database, using FileMaker Pro (Claris) program. FileMaker Pro was selected because it is low-priced, commercially available software which can handle images and it is already in use by a large number of people. (The data contained in our database can even be accessed by the demonstration version software available). FileMaker Pro, however, can only handle limited file size and it does not have the capacity to handle a great many images. For this reason, large-sized images could not be incorporated into the database, using this software.
Later, a new network environment called WWW was created and distributed. We found that the browser software for WWW allows a number of files (including images) to be handled very easily, and its use is not limited to networks. If these browsers are utilized, we can create a database which can manage large quantities of data on the network. At the same time, a database created in this way can be distributed in the form of a CD-ROM. We therefore decided to create a database (as hyper-text which contains images) using this software.

2) Dissemination on the network
We initially planned to disseminate individual pictures and text files through anonymous ftps, gophers, etc., after creating our database. However, we changed our plan and decided to disseminate the photo database (in the form of hyper-text) on the WWW server.
Since the database was created on a Macintosh, MacHTTP (Copyright (c) 1991-1994, Chuck Shotton) was first used as our server software. One problem we faced was the site of the server installation. If a Macintosh server were placed in a network with a low transmission speed, much time would be needed to access significant amounts of data from the network and the surrounding network environment would also be bogged down. To avoid these limitations, we installed a photo database mirror site on a UNIX work station at the Institute of Agricultural and Biological Resources (http://www.dna.affrc.go.jp/htdocs/Ant.WWW/htmls/index/html). Since this mirror site is easy to access, we plan to make it open to the general public. If the number of users increases significantly, it will be necessary to install additional mirror sites. The Japanese text in this database uses the Shift JIS code. The database has also an English menu, although translation of the entire database into English has not been completed yet.

Back ::: Forward
Japanese Journal of Computer Science Vol.2, No.1: pp.5-13
Copyright 1995 by The Myrmecological Society of Japan (for English version) and The Japanese Association of Computer Science (for Japanese version),