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There is lots of scientific talk about tissues; but who studies and researches tissues as a career? (And we are not talking about Kleenex.) Histologists are involved in the branch of biological science that studies the structure of human, animal and plant tissues. Histologists study muscles, bones, nervous tissue, blood, liver, lungs, heart, ears and eyes. They study the organization of tissues at all levels, from the whole organ down to the molecular components of cells.

There are four major types of histological tissues: epithelial tissue, muscular tissue, connective tissue, and nervous tissue. Histologists are fascinated by the physiological makeup of our body tissue. They study cell structure and the basic tissues of the mammalian body as well as the main events in the embryonic development. They research the musculo-skeletal anatomy, comparing living humans and apes with fossil hominids. More advanced histologists may research anatomy and neurology specifically studying brain tissue.

Animal tissues are called "epithelium," and they contain closely spaced cells and connective tissues. Histologists look at the electrical impulses of muscles, nerves and blood, that take place within the body. Plants are composed of tissue known as "meristematic tissue," which consists of storage tissue, vascular tissue and photosynthetic tissue. A variety of techniques are used for histological studies, including tissue culture, slide preparation, the use of various fixatives and stains, microtomes for preparing thin sections, light microscopy, electron microscopy, and x-ray diffraction.

Some histologists focus their work on genetics, utilizing probes that enable the analysis of specific genetic sequences, they can identify single DNA molecules. Along these lines, they can also determine tissue death, abnormality and regeneration and the reaction of tissue to injury or invading organisms. Since normal tissue has a characteristic appearance, histologic examination is often utilized to identify diseased tissue. Through studying abnormalities in tissue formation, histologists aid in the forward research of medicine.

Most histologists specialize in a specific area of histology such as comparative, embryology, cell biology or anatomy. Comparative histology is concerned with the structural differences of plant and animal forms. The study of similarities and differences in tissue structures forms the basis for classification of both plants and animals. Embryology deals with developing plants, animals or humans until hatching or birth, or germination, in plants. Histologists who study cell biology cover the internal anatomy of the cell, while anatomy is concerned with the study of the physical structure of the body.
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  Interests and Skills  
Histologists are fascinated with the makeup of the human body and animal and plant structures. They generally have good observation skills, and can work meticulously with fine details. They have the ability to integrate data from many sources and test hypotheses rigorously. Like other biological scientists, they should have an open and inquiring mind, and good oral and written communication skills. Most histologists enjoy synthesizing information, analyzing data, developing models and finding innovative solutions to problems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study form and structure of human and animal tissues
  • Examine large organs and organ systems by systematic observation and dissection
  • Examine minute structure of organs, tissues, and cells, using a microscope
  • Compare structure of one species with that of another
  • Determine ability of animal bodies to regenerate destroyed or damaged parts, and investigate possibility of transplanting organs and skin segments from one living body to another
  • Conduct research into basic laws of biological science to determine application to human medicine
  • May supervise anatomy technologists and technicians and other scientists
  • A typical day for an histoligist varies depending on the type of work they do. Histologists employed by universities usually divide their time between teaching and research. Teaching requires many hours preparing for class and laboratories, grading papers and meeting with students, and with research, there is no time frame involved, except for meeting strict deadlines. Those who work as full-time researchers spend most of their time in laboratories, but also travel to scientific meetings to present their results. They may work long hours, conducting experiments and analyzing results.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Many histologists work for universities and colleges, teaching undergraduates and graduate courses in histology, anatomy and biology. Some may conduct research in other academic departments such as cell biology, microbiology, pharmacology and zoology. They may also work in hospitals, government laboratories, institutes related to health, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and rehabilitation medicine centers.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement for histologists will usually depend on the individual's level of education and area of specialization. Some histologists become environmental consultants or assessment biologists for various government departments. Another option is becoming a scientific writer or journalist, reporting on the latest scientific issues. Finally, some will also decide to go into education and can teach histology or anatomy at the high school, college or university level.

  Educational Paths  
At a bare minimum, histologists must have a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in histology, anatomy or in a related biological discipline like physiology. Histologists who wish to conduct research go on to graduate and post-graduate training. Many histologists train as physicians and then take advanced degrees in histology.

The more education and experience histologists have, the more independently they can work. Those with bachelor's degrees are qualified for technical positions, setting up experiments and recording results, whereas a PhD will allow histologists to work as independent researchers, leading studies. Those who wish to teach and conduct research in universities usually work as post-doctoral fellows before gaining permanent employment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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