Book Review by Frank Rowntree

BIOLOGICAL MICROTECHNIQUE
Author: Jeremy Sanderson


Tradition
The most widely read parts of the journals and newsletters produced for microscopists are the 'How to do it' and technical hints and tips sections because of the wide interest in new or adapted methodologies and because of the paucity of easily available text sources. There has been a tradition for over a century that general microscopical texts devoted to the optical aspects of microscopy and the use of instruments contain some information on the techniques of microtomy and most include brief mentions of specimen preparation but these are perforce invariably totally inadequate for the serious worker whether amateur or professional.

Classical texts becoming rare
One of the most common and regular requests from the former group is for books on microtechnique which are consulted for practical aid and guidance as well as for general pleasure and interest. Sadly the great classic texts of the past on microtechnique like Bolles Lee are hard to come by, costly and becoming rapidly dated. The more up to date and immensely useful Peacock in its various editions is now so rare as to be collectible and other more modern titles like Gray are priced beyond the reach of most amateurs. Much information on individual techniques appears in the columns of the scientific research journals but access to these is restricted to the professional specialists who subscribe or to those who have the time and opportunity to cull the literature of academe.

A need for a modern reference on microtechniques
There has then been a longfelt need for a handbook that would provide a guide to the wide range of biological microtechniques available and which drew on the vast store of experience of the past and at the same time took into account the enormous strides and developments of the last few decades and which would be accessible not only to professional researchers but to amateurs seeking to aquire and develop skills in the production of plant and animal preparations for microscopical examination. This was a daunting task for any one worker to enbark upon and many felt that because of the vast field to be covered the likelihood of one individual succeeding in the undertaking was a remote one. The sceptics have however been confounded by the publication of Sandersons magnum opus.

A book to satisfy the needs of the amateur and the professional
His comparatively short but information packed volume satisfies most of the demands of the practicing professional researcher and virtually every every need that the amateur microscopist is likely to experience.

The brief ten page Introduction sets the style and standard maintained throughout the work providing a historical introduction and sections on the methodology and rationale of the collection of material, choice of preparation technique and examination of preparations. The author presents information in a crisp readable format in language which is unpretentious and accessible. The main body of the work consists of six sections devoted to Fixation, Tissue Processing, Microtomy, Other Preparative Methods, Staining and Dying and 'Finishing the Preparation'.

Layout and structure
Each main section is divided into headed subsections on specialist subsidiary topics making easy the finding of information on particular methods or the preparation of specific types of material. The text is supported by illustrations and figures including photographs, line drawings and flowcharts all of which are clear and relevant. The line drawings are worthy of special comment for their precision and clarity. There is no example of of an illustration being added for decoration including that concerned with the sinister use of the ringing table. Tables providing the formulae and protocols of the various methodologies and techniques of preparation are clearly laid out and easy to follow and the advantages and disadvantages attached to each are clearly discussed in the text.

'Hands-on' experience
The author has consulted and tested the microtechniques in the vast literature of the past and more recent present in the preparation of his critique and throughout the text he acknowledges the work of others, both professional and amateur, providing extensive reference lists at the end of each chapter which enable more detailed follow up by interested workers.

Duality of usefulness maintained
Whilst primarily intended for the use and reference of professional workers with access to advanced and complex equipment the book also meets the needs of amateurs working alone with few resources whose concerns were obviously well to the fore in the authors mind throughout his preparation of the text. There is no doubt that the ingenuity shown by amateurs over the years in attempting to develop technical aids comparable to those available to the professional will be aided by the illustrations and lucid descriptions he provides.

A milestone achieved!
This economically priced and overall visually attractive publication though a paperback is substantially produced to withstand hard wear and provide long service. The author, quite rightfully, has in one fell swoop achieved a place in the halls of fame of microtomy. His book should be in the hands of all microscopists who seek to widen their knowledge and improve their skills. Hopefully it will remain in print for some time only to be replaced by the next updated edition.

F.St.D.Rowntree

Book details: ISBN 1-872748-42-2; 1994 ;UK pounds18.95/ US $37.95; Bios Scientific Publishers

Available from the publishers; 9 Newtec Place, Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RE. UK. Or in the US, PO Box 605, Herndon, VA 0605-20172.

 

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