Homogenization in the lab is the process by which the components of a substance are broken up into tiny particles equal in size and structure, before being thoroughly mixed back together, creating a homogenous mixture.
This is typically done to substances that are mutually insoluble and immiscible, making them equal in size and, hence, miscible. It differs from emulsification in that emulsifying substances only requires that they are mixed into one another. However, when performing homogenization, emulsification is usually performed first.
In some cases, homogenization is also referred to as micronization or cell fractionation. Although liquids are the most common, scientists also homogenize tissue, food, plant, and soil samples. For example, specific devices, called tissue homogenizers, are made for tasks involving the breaking down of tissue structure to form an emulsion of tissue solids, proteins, and fluid.
Molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry laboratories utilize homogenization for research and production, while the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries implement cell disruption and cell lysis, the process of breaking down a cell’s membrane through viral, enzymic, or osmotic mechanisms, in a variety of ways. While similar to homogenization, these two methods are used in situations where the nucleus should be kept intact.
In molecular biology, PCR is just one application that benefits from homogenization, where sample preparation is vital to achieving accurate results.
Homogenization is a vital part of today’s scientific world, and laboratory homogenizers are best suited for the job. These machines are an important part of any modern laboratory, and aid in everything from simple mixing tasks to the development of cost effective, life-saving medicines and alternative biofuels.
Laboratory homogenizers come in a variety of styles that operate using different methods of force. These methods offer a myriad of applications, including DNA/RNA extraction, particle size reduction, and the preparation of suspensions, emulsions, and dispersions.
The mortar and pestle is perhaps the original homogenization method used, having been invented thousands of years ago.
It’s important to understand the requirements of your lab or company to ensure that you buy the correct type of device. This includes homogenization method and components used to break apart substances.
Take into consideration the type of method best suited for your needs, as well as the size. Do you need a small handheld homogenizer, a benchtop homogenizer, or something bigger, fit for industrial and large-scale needs?
Let’s review some common methods.
Mechanical homogenizers can utilize blades, beads, or probes to break apart cells. Some examples include:
Bead mill homogenizers, or bead mills, use small beads to agitate a sample and break it open in order to understand its intracellular contents.
Rotor-stator homogenizers, as well as high shear mixers, use a rotating rotor to draw a sample up through a stator with small holes, shearing the sample into very small particles.
Although blade homogenizers are less efficient, their simple design and use of blades allows for a wide variety of samples to be processed. Mechanical homogenizers have greatly improved the speed and quality of homogenization through updated speed control and digital displays.
A high pressure homogenizer, or HPH, similar to but slightly different than its mechanical counterpart, uses pressure in order to lyse cells.
Shearing is achieved by passing a sample through a system that applies force in a number of ways, as the sample squeezes through a narrow opening, effectively disrupting the cellular bonds.
These machines can be used to modify microorganisms, create cost-effective drugs, and synthesize new chemicals.
Ultrasonic treatment, also known as sonication or ultrasonication, is the method of applying sound to agitate cells or subcellular structures in suspension. This technique is used for the extraction of compounds from samples like seaweed, plants, and so much more.
By creating microbubbles within a sample, the cells eventually expand and burst open. These devices, known as ultrasonic homogenizers, are especially useful in the field of life sciences.
Cell fractionation is another method of homogenization, and is a term most commonly used in the biotech industry. This three-step process separates cellular components while preserving the individual function of each component. The steps are:
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