Cell Disruption Procedures and Challenges

Thursday June 13 2019

Cell disruption is an essential process for numerous biochemical and life science procedures. It refers to a family of distinct techniques used to release organic molecules contained within the cellular membrane, including intercellular organelles; proteins; and nucleic acids (DNA/RNA).

Disruption of the cellular structure is a crucial preparatory step for many extraction protocols. Some mammalian samples may not require cell disruption to successfully isolate intercellular samples of interest. However, it is usually mandated to ensure high sample yields, even for comparatively weak tissue types. It is a vital process in the study of hardier materials like plant cells, the cytoplasmic membranes of which are reinforced with a rigid cell wall. Successful isolation and purification of organic molecules from within leaves, stems, bark, and grains must be preceded by sample homogenization.

Lysing cells, or breaking down the cellular membrane, can pose additional problems downstream of homogenization. When the cell wall of a plant cell is mechanically homogenized, the polyphenolic biomolecules that form its structure break down and potentially contaminate the sample. However, there are myriad, well-established techniques for purifying samples following successful cell-disruption.

Types of Cell Disruption

The French press is the oldest of numerous cell disruption techniques. Invented in the 1940s, it still finds pervasive use in laboratories today and continues to inform new technologies for extraction and isolation procedures. In a typical French press array, the sample is placed in a cylinder and a hydraulic piston is used to induce high pressures, forcing sample cells through an extremely narrow aperture. This can successfully break down both plant cell walls and cytoplasmic membranes to expose the sample’s intercellular structures. The primary issue with the French press is its low throughput.

Another foundational cell disruption technique is hand-grinding with a pestle and mortar. This is ideal for breaking down plant tissues prior to treating the samples with enzymatic solutions or detergents to remove recalcitrant chemicals and contaminants. Sample purity using this method is utterly reliant on the affinity of the preparatory reagents. It is also time-consuming and labor-intensive. Bead mills have been developed to accelerate cell disruption via direct mechanical agitation, yet the process is typically limited to low throughput applications.

Nebulization is a third cell disruption technique, which exploits shear forces to break apart cellular structures, as opposed to physical induction of pressure or direct mechanical rupturing. A nebulizer reduces liquid media to an extremely fine mist, enabling dispersive cells to be opened with outstanding efficiency. The benefits of nebulization are threefold: cells can be opened with extremely tight control; they can often be totally disrupted in a single-pass; and the process is extremely efficient with negative heat generation.

Cell Disruption with Glas-Col

Glas-Col specializes in advanced cell disruption technologies for biochemistry and life sciences applications. We can offer assistance and support in the isolation of organic molecules from complex samples, with an industry-leading cell disruption nebulizer for high throughput cell disruption:

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If you would like to learn more about cell disruption with Glas-Col products, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.