THE ART OF CLEARING AND STAINING

My first batch failed miserably. I ended up with a cracked tank and 30-40 ruined specimens, but I pushed on and collected more interesting specimens, from streams to shops. Then I managed to finish my first specimen. It was mind blowing. The colors, bones, and tendons in the animals were so well adapted to its habitat but so perfectly orchestrated. It really goes to show how life has an answer to every problem.

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Hi! My name is David and I would like to take you on a scientific adventure into the world of staining and clearing.

 

Now you may be wondering: what is staining and clearing and how did people first come about this? The simple answer is that staining and clearing transforms a specimen and 'brings it to life;. It is a non-invasive technique developed in 1977 by scientists G. Dingerkus and L.D. Uhler who named the technique diaphonization.

 

I was first introduced to this technique in the field museum of natural history in Chicago. It blew my mind that adding a few chemicals can turn a lifeless specimen into a living art. After that moment, I knew i had to try it out for myself. When I got all the necessary equipment and chemicals ready, I dove straight in.

 

 It was a complete nightmare.

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Brief explanation of the staining and clearing process and its outcome

The fish are first dehydrated in a ethanol solution which pulls out all the water out of the fishes body. Then they’re soaked in a Alcain blue solution which stains the specimen’s cartilage, and Alzarin red solution to stain their bones. The colors will bind to the microscopic structures, and the specimens will then be cleared. The outcome is this unimaginable depiction of a specimen anatomy. The specimen will be placed in glycerin to make the leftover collagen virtually invisible. This is because collagen and glycerin have the same refractive index. This will then create the illusion of the specimen not having an outline.

 

 

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Why use clearing and staining

Some may say that staining and clearing isn’t practical and if the specimen was X-rayed or was used in an MRI it would be more effective. But when something is stained and cleared it doesn’t destroy a specimen; instead it creates a new life for the animal. In essence, the process of staining and clearing is a elegant reconstruction of an animal's body. It has the advantage over histology because staining and clearing gives an inherent 3D sense. This can then show the movement and the function of animals and how their bodies links one function to another internally.

 

Scientific implications

The scientific implications of staining and clearing are that they can help scientist discover how fauna evolved the way they did. Moreover, they can use the clues and the traits the animals sustained over time and put together the puzzle pieces of an animal's evolutionary past. This also help show the function the animal has evolved by seeing how their bone structure help them survive and why they are able to thrive in their environments.

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Written by David {Duke} Chiangpradit 

Year 12 Student at Bangkok Patana School

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Some people may think this destroys the specimen but in my opinion it can’t be further from the truth. When a specimen is stained and clear the creature gain a whole new appreciation in a almost poetic sense. This technique brings out hidden secrets in an animal no machine or dissection could bring out. This is a truly inspiring approach to understanding and admiring the creatures in this world and how complex life can become.

Personal thoughts

Some people may think this destroys the specimen, but in my opinion that viewpoint can’t be further from the truth. When a specimen is stained and cleared, the creature gains a whole new appreciation in a poetic sense.