Microbial Life > Research Methods > Microscopy


Created by Monica Z. Bruckner, Montana State University, Bozeman

This Giemsa stained micrograph depicts an example of a slightly acidic slide that yielded a pink colored resultant stain. The micrograph shows malarial cells. Photo courtesy of the Public Health Image Library.

What is Cellular Staining?

Cell staining is a technique that can be used to better visualize cells and cell components under a microscope. By using different stains, one can preferentially stain certain cell components, such as a nucleus or a cell wall, or the entire cell. Most stains can be used on fixed, or non-living cells, while only some can be used on living cells; some stains can be used on either living or non-living cells.

Why Stain Cells?

The most basic reason that cells are stained is to enhance visualization of the cell or certain cellular components under a microscope. Cells may also be stained to highlight metabolic processes or to differentiate between live and dead cells in a sample. Cells may also be enumerated by staining cells to determine biomass in an environment of interest.

How Are Cells Stained and Slides Prepared?

Cell staining techniques and preparation depend on the type of stain and analysis used. One or more of the following procedures may be required to prepare a sample:

What Are Some Common Stains?

There are several types of staining media, each can be used for a different purpose. Commonly used stains and how they work are listed below. All these stains may be used on fixed, or non-living, cells and those that can be used on living cells are noted.

After staining cells and preparing slides, they may be stored in the dark and possibly refrigerated to preserve the stained slide, and then observed with a microscope.

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