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Visualizing Phytoplankton

The FlowCAM (Flow Cytometer And Microscope) combines microscopy and imaging of cells in a moving fluid - sort of like a microscope mounted over a conveyor belt. You pump water past the detectors and a camera snaps a photo of each particle flowing by, recording a collage of images with the various tiny organisms pumped past its lenses.

The investigation of plankton taxonomy has traditionally required the fixation, storage and subsequent processing of water samples. Sample analysis requires not only hours of examination, but substantial training in the identification of a wide variety of organisms present in natural samples. Moreover, the fixation process can destroy delicate specimens. To speed the process up, CMOP scientists like Tawnya Peterson (pictured in photo) are using the FlowCAM to capture and store information about live cells with the flow-through image capturing system. Using Fluid Imaging Inc.’s image processing software, investigators can ‘train’ the instrument to recognize shapes and features, making counting cells of interest much faster. Further, since the camera captures live cells, they are not damaged or distorted by fixatives. This tool is of great use in the digital archiving of samples, especially in long-term field monitoring programs.



(Photo: Jeff Schilling/CMOP)