Research projects featuring repetitive phenotypic analysis of insects, such as taxonomic studies, quantitative genetics, and mutant screens, could be greatly facilitated by a simpler approach to scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Here, we have applied low-vacuum SEM to wild type and mutant Drosophila and demonstrate that high quality ultrastructure data can be obtained quickly using minimal preparation. Adult flies, frozen live for storage, were mounted on aluminum stubs with carbon cement and directly imaged, with no chemical treatment or sputter coating. The key imaging parameters were identified and optimized, including chamber pressure, beam size, accelerating voltage, working distance and beam exposure. Different optimal conditions were found for eyes, wings, and bristles; in particular, surface features of bristles were obscured at higher accelerating voltages. The chief difficulties were charging, beam damage, and sample movement. We conclude that our optimized protocol is well suited to large-scale ultrastructural phenotypic analysis in insects.
Keywords: Drosophila; bristle; insect; retina; ultrastructure; variable pressure scanning electron microscopy; wing.