Assessment of alternatives to environmental toxic formalin for DNA conservation in biological specimens

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Jul;24(20):16985-16993. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-9349-y. Epub 2017 Jun 3.


One essential step of museum and clinical specimen preservation is immersion in a fixative fluid to prevent degradation. Formalin is the most largely used fixative, but its benefit is balanced with its toxic and carcinogenic status. Moreover, because formalin-fixation impairs nucleic acids recovery and quality, current museum wet collections and formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded clinical samples do not represent optimal tanks of molecular information. Our study has been developed to compare formalin to two alternative fixatives (RCL2® and ethanol) in a context of molecular exploitation. Based on a unique protocol, we created mammalian fixed collections, simulated the impact of time on preservation using an artificial ageing treatment and followed the evolution of specimens' DNA quality. DNA extraction yield, purity, visual integrity and qualitative and quantitative ability to amplify the Cox1 gene were assessed. Our results show that both RCL2 and ethanol exhibit better performances than formalin. They do not impair DNA extraction yield, and more importantly, DNA alteration is delayed over the preservation step. The use of RCL2 or ethanol as fixative in biological collections may insure a better exploitation of the genetic resources they propose.

Keywords: Carcinogenic; DNA preservation; Ethanol; Fixative; Fluid collection; Formalin; Mammals; RCL2.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA*
  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde*
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Tissue Fixation*


  • Fixatives
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Formaldehyde
  • DNA