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9: Introduction to Microscopy

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    Viewing microscopic structures is an integral part of the study of botany. Many life cycle features or anatomical characteristics used to differentiate between lineages of organisms can only be distinguished through a microscope. However, this affords you the opportunity to view that which most will never see!

    The study of microscopic features of tissues is called histology. This study involves a variety of techniques for specimen preparation, including thin sections, squash mounts, heat treatments, and staining. Many tissues are colorless, making distinguishing features difficult. Stains can allow you to distinguish your specimen from the background (such as Congo Red for fungal hyphae, which stains the cytoplasm) or might have different chemical reactions with cellular compounds (such as Toluidine Blue for plant cells, which stains the primary wall purple and the secondary wall light blue). Some stains are carcinogenic, caustic, or are in some way hazardous, so be sure to follow the safety protocols when using them. Always avoid getting stains on yourself or your clothing (even when they are harmless, they still stain).

    fungal hyphae stained and unstained
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This image shows fungal hyphae without any stain (A) and stained with Congo Red (B). Notice how much easier it is to see the specimen. Scale bar=10 µm. Image retrieved from an open-access paper by Guerriero et al. (2013).

    Microscopy is a skill that must be practiced. Like most skills, you might struggle with it at first--making good thin sections is particularly difficult. The more opportunities you have to practice, the better you'll get, and the more you'll be able to see in your specimens. Knowing how to apply stains and which are best for different types of specimens will dramatically improve your results. Keep notes!

    This resource makes for an excellent additional companion for your adventures into histology.

    • 9.1: Using Microscopes
      This section describes the parts of both the compound and dissecting microscopes. It also covers some slide making skills, including wet mounts, thin sections, and staining.

    This page titled 9: Introduction to Microscopy is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Maria Morrow (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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