At the moment I am learning about acetolysis. I have collected a bunch of pollen samples and in order to get a better look at them I need to learn how to process them. Most pollen if you just put it on a microscope slide and look at it would be pretty indistinguishable to a species level. Acetolysis removes the protoplasm layer of pollen grains so that you can see the structure of the exine – this is the hard outer layer of the pollen grain that often has the most defining characteristics. The process involves a series of chemical washes using glacial acetic acid and concentrated sulphuric acid.

I just found a life changing article about acetolysis by Gretchen D. Jones – ‘Pollen analyses for pollination research, acetolysis’. It is the first article that I have seen that gives a protocol for acetolysis in a way that anyone can walk into a lab and do it. With this article, and some additional expert advice from GNS scientist Xun Li I am nearly ready to go. Can’t wait.

Acetolysis has so many applications in soil science, pollination biology, and and even archaeology. It can be used to get an idea of the kind of vegetation that covered the earth in ages past, it can be used to analyse the diet and home range of flower visitors, and it can be used to understand the climatic history of an area based on fossilised pollen. I am so grateful for science and the sense of wonder it fosters.

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