Comparison of different preparation methods of biological samples for FIB milling and SEM investigation


Damjana Drobne. Tel: +386 1 423 33 88; fax: +386 1 25 73 390; e-mail:


When a new approach in microscopy is introduced, broad interest is attracted only when the sample preparation procedure is elaborated and the results compared with the outcome of the existing methods. In the work presented here we tested different preparation procedures for focused ion beam (FIB) milling and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of biological samples. The digestive gland epithelium of a terrestrial crustacean was prepared in a parallel for FIB/SEM and transmission electron microscope (TEM). All samples were aldehyde-fixed but followed by different further preparation steps. The results demonstrate that the FIB/SEM samples prepared for conventional scanning electron microscopy (dried) is suited for characterization of those intracellular morphological features, which have membranous/lamellar appearance and structures with composition of different density as the rest of the cell. The FIB/SEM of dried samples did not allow unambiguous recognition of cellular organelles. However, cellular organelles can be recognized by FIB/SEM when samples are embedded in plastic as for TEM and imaged by backscattered electrons. The best results in terms of topographical contrast on FIB milled dried samples were obtained when samples were aldehyde-fixed and conductively stained with the OTOTO method (osmium tetroxide/thiocarbohydrazide/osmium tetroxide/thiocarbohydrazide/osmium tetroxide). In the work presented here we provide evidence that FIB/SEM enables both, detailed recognition of cell ultrastructure, when samples are plastic embedded as for TEM or investigation of sample surface morphology and subcellular composition, when samples are dried as for conventional SEM.