Wits researchers split pollen

2013-09-06 12:36
A cross section of Justicia flava showing the whole cut surface is seen. (Alisoun House)

A cross section of Justicia flava showing the whole cut surface is seen. (Alisoun House)

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Cape Town - Wits researchers have become the first to cut sections through pollen grains and make it possible to view a three dimensional image of the internal wall.

Under the supervision of Professor Kevin Balkwill, PhD student Alisoun House used a focussed ion beam-scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM) to slice through the pollen grains of species belonging to Acanthaceae. She then used an ordinary scanning electron microscope (SEM) to look at the inside walls exposed by the cut.

"Kevin had the idea that this microscope could be used. People have used it to look at fossilised pollen but it's the first time it's been done on fresh pollen from living plants," said House.

The FIB-SEM is like an ordinary SEM but where the SEM uses a focused beam of electrons to image the surface of a sample in the chamber, the FIB uses a focused beam of ions to cut a section through a sample in a chosen position.

"We can now see features in the internal wall that we couldn't see before using older technology which afforded only thin, two dimensional slices," said House.

She will now investigate whether the images are able to further prove similarities between different plants within the family, making the technique a good taxonomic tool. The hope is that these newly visible features of the internal walls of pollen grains will add to the body of information and enable more accurate classifications.
Read more on:    wits university  |  environment

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