Polyester or epoxy: Assessing embedding product efficacy in paleohistological methods

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Histological examination of bone microstructure provides insight into extant and extinct vertebrate physiology. Fossil specimens sampled for histological examination are typically first embedded in an inexpensive polyester resin and then cut into thin sections, mounted on slides, and polished for viewing. Modern undecalcified bone is chemically processed prior to embedding in plastic resin, sectioning, mounting, and polishing. Conversely, small fossil material and modern undecalcified bone are typically embedded in higher priced epoxy resin because these specimen types require final sections near or below 100 µm thick. Anecdotal evidence suggests thin sections made of polyester resin embedded material polished thinner than 100 µm increases likelihood of sample peeling, material loss, and is unsuitable for modern tissue and small fossil material. To test this assertion, a sample of modern bones and fossil bones, teeth, and scales were embedded in either polyester resin or epoxy resin. Embedded specimens were sectioned and mounted following standard published protocol. Thin sections were ground on a lapidary wheel using decreasing grit sizes until tissue microstructure was completely discernible when viewed under a polarizing light microscope. Additionally, eight prepared thin sections (four from polyester resin embedded specimens and four from epoxy resin embedded specimens) were continuously ground on a lapidary wheel using 600 grit carbide paper until peeling occurred or material integrity was lost. Slide thickness when peeling occurred was measured for comparing slide thickness when specimen integrity was lost between the two resin types. Final slide thickness ranged from 38 µm to 247 µm when tissue was identifiable using a polarizing microscope. Finished slide thickness varied between resin types despite similar tissue visibility. However, finished slide thickness appears more dependent on hard tissue composition than resin type. Additionally, we did not find a difference of slide thickness when material was lost between resin types. The results of this preliminary study suggest that polyester resins can be used for embedding undecalcified modern hard tissues and fossilized hard tissues without loss of tissue visibility or material integrity, at least in the short term.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10495
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2020


  • Bone microstructure
  • Embedding
  • Epoxy
  • Histotechniques
  • Osteohistology
  • Paleohistology
  • Paleontology
  • Polyester


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