Good and Bad Practices for Ethanol-Preserved Collections

Ever wonder how museums preserve their specimens and maintain them in such great condition? Well, about 95% of museums all over the world use ethanol for long term preservation! In most cases, ethanol is used in 70% solution due to its wonderful property of preserving DNA without causing much external damage to the organism.

In order to properly preserve specimens in ethanol one must avoid using shell vials with plastic lids in containers submerged in ethanol.

Shell vials poorly stored in jar submerged with ethanol.

Over time plastic caps will slowly degrade and ultimately loosen. Image by R. Toro (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

Image of screw top containers properly organized.

Proper way of storing plastic screw top containers. Image by R. Toro (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If not properly contained, one might also expect one of the following:

Shell vials in jar with contaminated (orange-brown) ethanol.

Contaminated ethanol, direct result of use of plastic caps. Image by R. Toro (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

Cross-contamination of specimens, direct result of use of plastic caps.

Cross-contamination of specimens, direct result of use of plastic caps. Image by R. Toro (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In summary,

  • Specimens must be placed in shell vials and completely submerged in ethanol.
  • Shell vials must then be placed in a larger closed container with a cotton base and must also be submerged in ethanol.
  • Ensure all shell vials are capped with cotton and each container has an appropriate label.
Image of jar filled with shell vials, completely submerged in ethanol.

Exemplary model for storage of ethanol-preserved specimens. Photo by R. Toro (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

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