As pollengrains are very, very small you’ll need a microscope to identify the type of pollen. The pollengrains are fixed on sticky tape, put on a glass microscope slide and can be analysed by a microscope.
There are also techniques which don’t use the “light part of the spectrum” using microscope and camera.
You can also make an image of pollen using an electron microscope. Preparation of the samples takes a lot of time, but results look very cool. Basically you shoot electrons at the sample and look at the way they bounce back.
There are more of these indirect strategie to identify pollen. It’s also possible to create a hologram or a spectral by using laser and UV. These devices are called flow cytometers. You don’t need sticky tape or glass to fix the pollen, as these techniques work directly in the airflow containing pollen. The output is more like a unique graph, which also needs to be analysed to identify the type op pollengrain.
Pretty new is the technology of DNA-barcoding. It’s the process of identifying pollen species through the amplification and sequencing of specific, conserved regions of plant DNA.
These are some examples of different ways to identify pollen. As smart scientists are working on this topic, new technologies might pop up. Can you smell pollen?
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cartoons by Maarten Claassen