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Earlier this year, the histology team at The Kennedy Institute were thrilled to receive an enquiry like no other. We are used to processing and sectioning a wide variety of tissues for Oxford university researchers as well as other British and European institutions; however, we never expected to deal with chicken breast and beef steak from Sainsburys!

The histology team at the exhibit in the Oxford natural history museum. (From left to right) Dr Bryony Stott, Dr Ida Parisi and Rhiannon Cook.The histology team at the exhibit in the Oxford natural history museum. (From left to right) Dr Bryony Stott, Dr Ida Parisi and Rhiannon Cook.

The request hailed from The Oxford Natural History Museum for their collaboration with the LEAP project (Livestock, Environment and People) at OU. Meat the Future explores the consequences on human health, climate and economy, of the steeply rising consumption of meat around the world; as well as new improved options for a more eco-friendly diet. Our collaborators wanted us to provide them with sections that would show the structure of the myosin fibres, blood vessels, collagen and fat that were present in the different meats, and present them as art. You can see our images and how the project has explained the difference in structural components between the red and white meat on the exhibition website under the sub-title Natural born meat-eaters? 

To be part of the exhibit was an incredibly exciting opportunity as something we love to do is create "bio-art". You can find more of our histology department's bio-art here if you like

Usually in histology, for optimum results the sample should be fixed in formalin straight away to keep it fresh and not left to dry out or rot. So, as you can imagine we were a bit sceptical when we received meat that had been vacuum packed and left to sit in the supermarket for a few days. Tentatively we pushed onward, fixed some pieces of the two different meats and processed them as we would any other sample (fixation in formalin, dehydration in alcohol, clearing in xylene and then infiltration with paraffin wax).

Paraffin embedded chicken breast (left) and beef steak (right)Paraffin embedded chicken breast (left) and beef steak (right)


We embedded them appropriately also considering what we thought would look nice from a bio-art perspective. We described them as a bit ‘iffy’ to section, probably due to their late fixation but by some miracle and perseverance we were able to get lovely sections which we stained with H&E, Masson’s Trichrome and Sirius Red. Our imaged sections can be found on the official exhibit website and the microscopic slides can be seen at the museum on a child-friendly microscope.


The bio-art images created from the chicken and beef samplesThe bio-art images created from the chicken and beef samples 

Many thanks also to Dr Hayat Muhammad, who helped us image the Sirius red sections using polarised light in order to see the different types of collagen with greater distinction and also to look a lot more aesthetically pleasing.

The exhibit is being displayed from 28th May 2021- 16th Jan 2022 - check out the exhibition website. We also have the opportunity for public engagement as the exhibit organiser has invited us back to the museum to share in more detail what we do and to present any ideas we have which we are greatly looking forward to!


The team exhibit one of the sample sections in the museum. (From left to right) Rhiannon Cook, Dr Ida Parisi, and Dr Bryony ScottThe team exhibit one of the sample sections in the museum. (From left to right) Rhiannon Cook, Dr Ida Parisi, and Dr Bryony Scott

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