Specimen ethics

Do you have any microscopy questions, which you are afraid to ask? This is your place.
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GlennK
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Specimen ethics

#1 Post by GlennK » Fri Apr 24, 2020 5:42 am

Total beginner question (I don’t even own a microscope...yet). When you prepare a slide with microbes, what do you do with them after you are done? I would feel bad after observing and enjoying them not to be able to place them back into the jar/pond/wherever I got them!

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75RR
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Re: Specimen ethics

#2 Post by 75RR » Fri Apr 24, 2020 5:57 am

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PeteM
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Re: Specimen ethics

#3 Post by PeteM » Fri Apr 24, 2020 6:18 am

As above -- a similar question was asked a while ago, with multiple answers. You might search for it.

I suppose there is a tendency to anthropomorphize these critters. My only reasonably sure belief it that what you wouldn't want to do is introduce it to different place - where it might be more a contaminant than either a welcome immigrant or a delighted tourist.

After viewing you might feel some attachment. Then again, you'll find some of these single celled creatures are downright predatory - not especially regarding of the rights of their fellow protists or even the occasional human they might colonize. Lock 'em up?

More seriously, people in the earlier thread had different notions of how far down the continuum of sentience we might or should feel various moral obligations. Your choice.

I recently had an interesting exprience doing a "Micronaut" session with a group of young kids. Somehow the entire group of kids seemed to arrive at a naive sort of moral code. They seemed to have zero attachment to their own cheek cells or even human blood cells. Pollen spores? Same thing. On the other hand, they took it upon themselves to return spiders, caterpillars and other living stereo microscope finds to where they found them -- a genuine concern.

Spider or insect crawling about in their own home? Didn't get to see that . . .

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Re: Specimen ethics

#4 Post by Hobbyst46 » Fri Apr 24, 2020 9:54 am

PeteM wrote:
Fri Apr 24, 2020 6:18 am
As above -- a similar question was asked a while ago, with multiple answers. You might search for it.

I suppose there is a tendency to anthropomorphize these critters. My only reasonably sure belief it that what you wouldn't want to do is introduce it to different place - where it might be more a contaminant than either a welcome immigrant or a delighted tourist.

After viewing you might feel some attachment. Then again, you'll find some of these single celled creatures are downright predatory - not especially regarding of the rights of their fellow protists or even the occasional human they might colonize. Lock 'em up?

More seriously, people in the earlier thread had different notions of how far down the continuum of sentience we might or should feel various moral obligations. Your choice.

I recently had an interesting exprience doing a "Micronaut" session with a group of young kids. Somehow the entire group of kids seemed to arrive at a naive sort of moral code. They seemed to have zero attachment to their own cheek cells or even human blood cells. Pollen spores? Same thing. On the other hand, they took it upon themselves to return spiders, caterpillars and other living stereo microscope finds to where they found them -- a genuine concern.

Spider or insect crawling about in their own home? Didn't get to see that . . .
Pete, this comment is a powerful compact overview of the basic moral/social/sustainability/learning conceptions and doubts !! especially regarding young kids !
Maybe the only justification is purpose. As long as the purpose of collecting and handling the creatures is not abuse (by common moral judgement), it is allowed. At what age can kids internalize it - I do not know...
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Re: Specimen ethics

#5 Post by apochronaut » Fri Apr 24, 2020 10:29 am

Actually, I haven't been wearing gloves, mask or washing my hands lately. I've been collecting any stray Sars 2 viruses manually and returning them to the environment they came from. People don't like me around here for some reason? I know they aren't supposed to be living but anything that can get it's genes to reproduce properly gets my vote. Harvey Weinstein's mother and father couldn't even do that.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#6 Post by Sir » Fri Apr 24, 2020 11:03 am

I know others are quick to point out that other threads exist on this subject, but I think your question on ethics is one that should be repeatedly asked. The very nature of science allows for us to build upon our collective knowledge, and potentially change our understanding of the world. If we don't challenge our knowledge and test our theories over and over again then that is nothing less than a failure of process.

With any discussion on ethics, you're bound to go down the rabbit hole one often does when crossing philosophy and science. At the very least, your consideration here will allow you to come up with an informed personal view. And that is probably the extent of what I could provide you, my own personal view based on my own understanding. Which is that while most microbial life can respond to certain stimuli, they don't necessarily experience it in any way that you and I could identify with. I was first prompted to ask a similar question when I was buying meat at the supermarket, and how my decision could influence the life of an animal. As a result of asking that I stopped eating meat (drastic, I know), but I found myself asking the same question again when I took up microscopy as a hobby. Now I find myself crudely and frequently ending the life of microbes, intentionally and unintentionally just because I want to observe them under my microscope. When it comes to my personal ethics maybe that's hypocrisy, maybe it's cognitive dissonance at play. So while I'm unsure of the ethics behind my actions, I can accept the logic behind them.

There's a quote I like by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham that is often brought up when discussing this topic:
“The question is not, can they reason?, nor can they talk? but, can they suffer?”

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Re: Specimen ethics

#7 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Fri Apr 24, 2020 12:22 pm

I have a small above ground pool that I let stagnate over the winter. It was chock full of the marvelous animals, and I had a good time observing many of them, admiring the diversity in even this contrived environment. Of course, in cleaning and disinfecting the pool, I killed more creatures than I could observe in several lifetimes, but we do like to splash around in the summer!

This is not to make light of your legitimate concerns, but rather to say that without microscopic investigation, we would never know the incredible impact so many of our actions have on the life we're basically living amongst.
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Re: Specimen ethics

#8 Post by dtsh » Fri Apr 24, 2020 2:26 pm

I often contemplate these kinds of questions and have spent a non-insignificant amount of time on the issue, but I do not have what I feel is a good answer, only further questions. Rather than muddy the waters with my list of unanswered and likely unanswerable questions I can only suggest that anyone with concerns take an easier route and study the work done by others so that if there is an issue to be concerned about they aren't compounding it with their own actions. There's a lot of good work out there and one can learn for a lifetime without taking any samples or preparing a single slide.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#9 Post by GlennK » Fri Apr 24, 2020 2:59 pm

Wow! Thank you all for your considered replies. All good food for thought. I’m glad I found this board. And yes, I’m not only learning microscopy but also the board. I’ll experiment with the search function!

Expanding on Bram’s pool anecdote, I regularly tend to my yard (mowing, sweeping etc.) and probably wipe out untold numbers of insects and tiny creatures :shock: without realization. They are small, and not necessarily visible as I go about my “macro” activities. However, occasionally I will pick out an isopod crawling across the patio - or a spider in the leaves I’m sweeping. Once identified, that creature becomes real. It is attempting to survive like all other life. So, usually, I pause and let it crawl away or scoop it up with a leaf and toss it into the flower bed where it will be safe(r) (or at least not on my radar anymore...). I say usually, because if I see something that may cause harm (e.g. black widow spider) then ... well, it is either me or them! (Although I still feel a pang if sadness after the smushing).

However, for the “micro” world it’s different. Millions of microbes live in my yard, but I’ll never see them while doing yard work - not even if I even peer closely at the dirt or puddles while on on my hands and knees! But I suppose that changes when you break out the microscope. Now you have identified them and know they are there. It’s like seeing that isopod crawling across the patio. I wonder if I’ll feel similarly when I see a tardigrade or even some rotifers on the slide?!

In our comfortable civilized “Macro” human existence, extended, lengthy survival usually seems to be the assumed natural state. But in nature, especially as you get smaller and smaller, survival on a time scale humans consider lengthy just isn’t the norm, and survival of a particular creature itself isn’t really ever a given (survival of a species of course being a different matter). Nature, while beautiful and amazing, isn’t necessarily “kind” to individual creatures in the human sense.

For now, I avoid this conundrum by reading all the great posts with amazing photos and videos on this board and watching Oliver’s YouTube channels (and of course the Journey To The Microcosmos channel)! I’ll let you know how I feel after I get a microscope of my own. Thanks again for your thoughts on this topic!

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Re: Specimen ethics

#10 Post by charlie g » Fri Apr 24, 2020 7:57 pm

Hi GlennK, I am troubled by your harsh term: 'ethics'....especially regards to microbial systems we share our planet with. Do not tell me ( not my concern)...do you drive a car, do you live in an urban area, do you utilize animals from a local stores: 'meat-case'...please do not reply to these questions...my suggestion is that we all 'have avoidable negative impact on our dear earths: 'planetary system...the biosphere, the atmosphere, the geologic sphere, the hydrosphere....we all impact our: earth system....there is no legitimate right to: 'cherry pick' being ...err...'ethical' about a water sample ...when you utilize our world commerce sytem, when you live in a density of human community...no judgement on my part..I simply suggest we all have 'blood on our hands' by habitat destruction, by our non-sustainable mono-culture agriculture...by our dominace...our terrible footprint on our earth-system.

Fell better if you collect water sample to open balanced cultures at your microscopy bench...you can flush-return observed specimens to their source cultures....after a time of enjoyment...dump these waters back where you collected them from.

All I suggest is...you not see the forest for the trees...your ethics ( you do not yet own a microscope) demand you are aware of all the 'unethical havoc' you cause by your current lifestyle, by your desire to 'do better' for our earth-system.


This is a call to embrace a sensible lifestyle...an advocacy for a sustainable world...please do not tell me you: 'play golf'. Ditching the microbe water slide back to it's source culture is easy...compared to your speculation about: 'ethics'...and you do not yet have a microscope...yet look at all you negative footprints on our earthsystem thus far ( not my concern what your lifestyle is)...the ethics are in your specific life...not the slide of microbes. all the best, charlie guevara

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Re: Specimen ethics

#11 Post by Charles » Fri Apr 24, 2020 9:29 pm

I don't know why there is such a discussion. If you don't like just flushing the slide when you're done, don't collect them as samples. Use sand or dead leaves or whatever you want. I kill more organisms in my pool than I do on a slide. You kill thousands of organisms by washing your hands, body...so you're not going to wash?

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Re: Specimen ethics

#12 Post by JGardner » Fri Apr 24, 2020 10:21 pm

GlennK wrote:
Fri Apr 24, 2020 5:42 am
Total beginner question (I don’t even own a microscope...yet). When you prepare a slide with microbes, what do you do with them after you are done? I would feel bad after observing and enjoying them not to be able to place them back into the jar/pond/wherever I got them!
Do you feel bad every time you take antibiotics because you're wiping out billions of gut bacteria?

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Re: Specimen ethics

#13 Post by GlennK » Fri Apr 24, 2020 11:07 pm

Wow. This thread took a dark turn! Look, I’m not casting stones. And I think it’s interesting to see people’s thoughts on this. It was just something that occurred to me to wonder about as I learn about the fascinating microbial world. I agree that the term “ethics” may not necessarily be appropriate when talking about microbes. I just wanted to know what others thought (and I got a whole range of thoughts!). And yes, my existence invariably causes the death of thousands upon thousands of animals and billions of microbes - but I can still wonder how I will feel about my slide specimens!

I did see another thread where someone mentioned their “microbe aquarium” where they draw samples and then rinse the slides back into the “aquarium” when done (don’t know how effective that is... or whether it’s just a feel good measure) So, I guess there’s that too!

Anyway, thanks all for your thoughts on this! I hope to ask better questions when I get a microscope!

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Re: Specimen ethics

#14 Post by Charles » Fri Apr 24, 2020 11:35 pm

Well, think on this. Water treatment plants get water from reservoirs, lakes, rivers with billions of organisms which are filtered and purposely killed daily. Now that is dark.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#15 Post by wporter » Fri Apr 24, 2020 11:44 pm

Perhaps part of the cognitive disconnect that raises questions like this, i.e., I feel sorry for my microbes on my slide, I hate to hurt them, is it ok to flush them, etc., etc., arises from the mere fact that when examined under the microscope, the apparent size of the microlife is very macro, and can even approach the (angular) size of the family dog. You wouldn't flush Rover down the toilet would you?!! (assuming you're not a cat person, that is...)

This hypothetical empathy based on apparent size, for our bizarre microlife organisms, bodes well for the day when we meet up with intelligent but hideous extraterrestrials. We would not, under this rosy scenario, shoot first and ask questions later. Assuming that they are not hostile in some way, like trying to eat us.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#16 Post by Charles » Fri Apr 24, 2020 11:51 pm

If you don't want to feel bad about killing organisms, don't give them names. 'Intelligent but hideous extraterrestrials', yeah right! Why would they be hideous? Maybe they are good to eat?

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Re: Specimen ethics

#17 Post by GlennK » Sat Apr 25, 2020 12:24 am

Ok. But it’s not easy when you see videos about “Water Bears” or “Moss Pigs” (tardigrades)! Stop using cute names dang it! Anyway, thank you all for an engaging philosophical discussion. I find it interesting that although we live in the same ecosystem as microbes, and rely on them for our very lives (and many times die from them!) that it seems when looking in a microscope you are looking at alien life forms in another universe. Totally fascinating! Imagine back when the earth’s inhabitants were ONLY microbial life. And how in the world they evolved into something like a whale or elephant - or us!?

I am sure I’ll have future questions about objectives and slide medium. But these wonderings are what make microscopy really engaging. Thanks from a “beginner”!

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Re: Specimen ethics

#18 Post by MichaelG. » Sat Apr 25, 2020 7:51 am

GlennK wrote:
Sat Apr 25, 2020 12:24 am
... But these wonderings are what make microscopy really engaging.
Well said, Glenn

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Re: Specimen ethics

#19 Post by 75RR » Sat Apr 25, 2020 8:44 am

Hi Charles,
Maybe they are good to eat?
Lets hope for their sake that they don't taste like chicken and for our sake that we don't either!
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Re: Specimen ethics

#20 Post by mrsonchus » Sat Apr 25, 2020 10:39 am

75RR wrote:
Sat Apr 25, 2020 8:44 am
Hi Charles,
Maybe they are good to eat?
Lets hope for their sake that they don't taste like chicken and for our sake that we don't either!

:D :D Made me snort! :oops:
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Re: Specimen ethics

#21 Post by Charles » Sat Apr 25, 2020 4:03 pm

75RR wrote:
Sat Apr 25, 2020 8:44 am
Hi Charles,
Maybe they are good to eat?
Lets hope for their sake that they don't taste like chicken and for our sake that we don't either!
Indeed!

Hi 75RR!

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Re: Specimen ethics

#22 Post by Peter » Sat Apr 25, 2020 7:02 pm

GlennK wrote:
Fri Apr 24, 2020 5:42 am
Total beginner question (I don’t even own a microscope...yet). When you prepare a slide with microbes, what do you do with them after you are done? I would feel bad after observing and enjoying them not to be able to place them back into the jar/pond/wherever I got them!

Hi Glenn,
To answer your question; when I have finished observing I wipe my slides and cover slips with a tissue and put it in the rubbish.
Peter.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#23 Post by actinophrys » Thu Apr 30, 2020 3:52 am

Not to repeat the other threads too much, but for the record: I always put mine back when I'm done unless there is a special reason not to, as in a case where the specimens proved of actual scientific interest. Otherwise this is a hobby; I'm observing them for pleasure, and it certainly doesn't give me any pleasure to think that I'm taking the marvels I see away to be deliberately destroyed. Other people may have different priorities and so different answers, to be sure, but that's been mine for the long time I've been at this.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#24 Post by Tom Jones » Thu Apr 30, 2020 2:44 pm

I suppose I'm lucky in that my career was spent generally in the detection and identification of pathogens in clinical labs. Returning the specimens, or the gazillion things we grew from them, was never a consideration. For some reason, even with something as cute as Giardia, with those nice big "eyes" looking at you, no one ever suggested sending the watery stool specimen back to the patient after the workup! Everything went into the autoclave.

I do admit to washing a Stephanoceros, with eggs, back into an aquarium once. :D Not so much because I wanted to save it, but because it was the first one I'd ever seen, I was out of time for the day, and I was hoping to be able to see it again!

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Re: Specimen ethics

#25 Post by JGardner » Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:18 pm

When I'm done with a slide, everything goes into a bucket filled with IPA. After a week or two in the bucket I pour off the alcohol and toss the slides/coverslips in the trash.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#26 Post by MichaelG. » Thu Apr 30, 2020 6:41 pm

JGardner wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:18 pm
When I'm done with a slide, everything goes into a bucket filled with IPA. After a week or two in the bucket I pour off the alcohol ...
Ah but do you drink it ? :lol:

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Re: Specimen ethics

#27 Post by 75RR » Thu Apr 30, 2020 6:48 pm

Ah but do you drink it ?
Crocodile Dundee would have!
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Re: Specimen ethics

#28 Post by Hobbyst46 » Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:35 pm

JGardner wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:18 pm
When I'm done with a slide, everything goes into a bucket filled with IPA. After a week or two in the bucket I pour off the alcohol and toss the slides/coverslips in the trash.
I would avoid having any container of IPA that is not hermetically closed. Alcohol vapors are not toxic but are harmful. So I have learnt.
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Re: Specimen ethics

#29 Post by deBult » Thu Apr 30, 2020 9:39 pm

Hobbyst46 wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:35 pm
JGardner wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:18 pm
When I'm done with a slide, everything goes into a bucket filled with IPA. After a week or two in the bucket I pour off the alcohol and toss the slides/coverslips in the trash.
I would avoid having any container of IPA that is not hermetically closed. Alcohol vapors are not toxic but are harmful. So I have learnt.
Please elaborate, as most IPA is now sold in plastic bottles and there is always a very faint smell.

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Re: Specimen ethics

#30 Post by JGardner » Thu Apr 30, 2020 10:59 pm

Hobbyst46 wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:35 pm
JGardner wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:18 pm
When I'm done with a slide, everything goes into a bucket filled with IPA. After a week or two in the bucket I pour off the alcohol and toss the slides/coverslips in the trash.
I would avoid having any container of IPA that is not hermetically closed. Alcohol vapors are not toxic but are harmful. So I have learnt.
The bucket has a lid. Probably not a hermetic seal, but I don't smell the alcohol unless the lid is open.

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