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Preserving specimens in liquid preservatives
Any specimens that fit into a jar or vial may be "pickled" by using any of
several different preservatives. Do not pack the specimens into the
jar. The U.S. National Herbarium attempts to keep Formalin fixed, EtOH
preserved (see below) portions of most specimens, with the exception of
Corallines, which are kept in 3-5% Formalin. Most specimens are kept
either in 4-dram (21 x 70 ml) shell vials inside canning jars, or in 20-ml
scintillation vials with urea/ poly-seal cone caps, filled with the
Go to: Support Collections - U.S. National Herbarium
Some Standard Algal Preservatives
Formalin - sea water / buffered.
3-5%. A good all-around fixing solution and preservative.
Commercial 37% formaldehyde (= 100% Formalin) is diluted with seawater to make a 3-5%
Formalin solution to which baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is added as a buffer (to prevent
unfavorable increases in acidity) using approximately 40 gms. per liter.
Note: Too much buffer may be detrimental. It has been reported that thalli may become brittle and
disintegtrate with the excessive addition of buffer.
Fix for 24 - 48 hours for thick, cartilaginous algae. NOTE: If the specimen is to be stored for very
long, it should be kept in the dark, in sealed containers or bags, to prevent bleaching.
Transeau Solution
6:3:1. Recommended by many freshwater phycologists.
Contains 6 parts water, 3 parts ethyl alcohol (95%), 1 part Formalin (commercial). If you figure the
approximate proportions, the water may be supplied in the sample and the added preservative
need only contain 3 parts alcohol to 1 part Formalin. It is convenient to add the preservative using
a squirt bottle.
70% EtOH. A good all-around preservative.
Some herbaria require EtOH, however isopropyl alcohol may be used.
At the U.S. National Herbarium, the staff first fixes the specimens in 3-5 % Formalin for at least 24
hours before rinsing with tap water and transferring to 70% EtOH for permanent storage.
F.A.A. (Formalin-acetic acid - alcohol).
A good all-around preservative of particular value for preserving cell structures such as flagella.
DO NOT use F.A.A. on calcified algae, such as Acetabularia. The acid will harm the specimen.
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Formula: EtOH (50%), 100 ml + commercial Formalin, 6.5 ml + glacial acetic acid, 2.5 ml.
Notes on Specimen Preservation with References
Notes on Hazardous Chemicals
Many of the chemicals used in the preservation and staining processes may be listed as environmentally
hazardous. Therefore you need to be aware of possible hazards by consulting the chemical's MSDS*
label, and work accordingly. It is suggested that all work with chemical solutions be conducted in a FUME
HOOD and that lab personnel wear appropriate eye protection, gloves and a chemical apron.
For example, you should be aware that formaldehyde has been classified as a possible carcinogen, and
has a CERCLA rating of:
* MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheet
Data sheet provided by the manufacturer of the chemical which lists the environmental, health and
physical information concerning the use and disposal of the chemical, as well as the suggested
minimum personal protective equipment to be used. This chemical information sheet typically
rates the chemicals (CERCLA - NFPA) by assigning a number for the chemical's respective health
hazard, flammability, reactivity and persistence. It is advised that you familiarize yourself with this
rating system.