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Cell Disrupters: A Review

A review covering apparatus and techniques of cell disruption

by Tim Hopkins, (Updated 2021)

Practical aspects of mechanical cell disruption are discussed. Sources and approximate prices of equipment are given. A more extensive review of the subject by the author is available in 'Purification and Analysis of Recombinant Proteins', Seetharam and Sharma, editors, published by Marcel Dekker, Inc (New York), 1991.

Bead Mill or Beadbeater Homogenizers

In a recent survey, over 40% of lab homogenizers are specifically used to disrupt cells (Lab Manager, December 2015).  In the general category of lab homogenizers, bead-milling, commonly called beadbeating**, is the newest entry in this general category and now leads to traditional rotor-stator and ultrasonic methods as the laboratory method of choice for disruption of cells and tissue.

** The first lab-scale, bead mill cell disrupter was introduced to the scientific community in 1979 by BioSpec Products.  Named "BeadBeater", it could batch-process a mixture of up to 80 g (wet wt) of microbial cells inside a sealed container containing tiny glass beads and buffer and stirred at high speed. Perceiving a need for a "beadbeater" that could lyse much smaller laboratory samples, the company turned to agitating the beads inside sealed microvials utilizing the intense shaking action of a modified amalgamator used to prepare dental tooth filling materials. Over the years this popular brand name "BeadBeater" has spawned two generic words: "beadbeater" and "beadbeating".

In bead-milling (sic, beadbeating), a large number of minute glass, ceramic, or steel beads are vigorously agitated by shaking or stirring. Disruption occurs by the crushing action of the beads as they collide with the cells. Compared to ultrasonic and high-pressure methods of cell disruption wet bead milling is low in shearing force. By selecting the correct sized beads recovered cell membranes are high and intracellular organelles can often be isolated intact. The method has been used for years to disrupt microorganisms. It is considered the method of choice for disruption for spores, yeast, and fungi and works successfully with tough-to-disrupt cells like cyanobacteria, mycobacteria, spores, and microalgae. More recently, bead mill homogenization has been applied to soil samples and to small samples of plant and animal tissue. If PCR techniques are being used, this homogenization method is one of the few that totally avoids possible cross-contamination between samples, primarily because both the vials and beads are disposable, one-use items.

The diameter of the beads used is important. The optimal size for bacteria and spores is 0.1 mm, 0.5 mm for yeast, mycelia, microalgae, and unicellular animal cells such as leucocytes or trypsinized tissue culture cells and 1.0 or 2.5 mm for tissues such as brain, muscle, leaves, and skin. Speed of disruption is increased by about 50% by using like-sized, heavier ceramic beads made of zirconia-silica or zirconia rather than glass. Disruption of really tough tissues sometimes requires chrome-steel beads - which are 5 times denser than glass beads. While steel beads in microvials can be used with shaking-type bead mills, they are too heavy to be used in rotor-type bead mills.  Even then, in some high-energy shaking-type bead mills, steel beads may break or crack commonly available polypropylene microvials. To get around this limitation, specially designed, more durable, polypropylene microvials (branded ‘XXTuff’) or microvials made of stainless steel are available (BioSpec Products, Bartlesville, OK)). There are reports that non-bead, sharp-edged particles made of silicon carbide, also do a good job of disrupting tough tissue. An adequate load of the beads in a vial is usually about 20-50% of the total vial volume. Generally, the higher the volume ratio of beads to the cell suspension, the faster the rate of cell disruption. After homogenization in a bead mill, the beads quickly settle by gravity and the cell extract is easily removed by pipetting.

Try it out!  Microorganisms and tissue can be disrupted manually using the bead-mill technique: This hand-held method is slow but serves as an initial test of the beadbeating method:  Microbial cells or tissue (the later pre-chopped into very small pieces) suspended in one ml of extraction media is added to a 2 mL microvial containing one ml of appropriately sized beads. Cap the microvial and agitate the mixture at maximum speed on a lab vortex mixer for at least ten minutes.

Shaking-type Bead Mills

Shaking-type bead mills process sample sizes of 500 mg (wet weight) or less and use 2 mL polypropylene screw-cap microvials. Accessories to hold 7 mL or larger tubes are often available.  Screw-caps are always used because snap-top microvials can release aerosols of their contents during the high-energy shaking process. These machines hold the vials either in a vertical position or a more efficient near-horizontal position. Almost all machines shake the beads in the direction of the vial’s axis. The pattern of vial shaking can be either linear or compressed figure-8.  While there are some noticeable performance differences between machines, especially when disrupting tough cells or tissue, total disruption generally takes about 1-3 minutes and yields of intracellular biochemicals are very high. After beadbeating, the beads settle by gravity in seconds and the cell extract is easily removed by pipette.


Numerous manufacturers now offer bead mills designed specifically for cell disruption. Commercial shaking-type bead mill cell disrupters are listed in the order of the manufacture's first model presented to the marketplace: Mini-BeadBeater-1, -16, -24, -96, SoniBeast (BioSpec Products, Bartlesville, OK); Retsch Mixer MM 301, MM400 and MM500 (F. Kurt Retsch GmbH, Haan, Germany); FastPrep-24 and -96 (MP Biomedicals, Santa Ana, CA); Precellys Evolution, Precellys-24 and Minilys (Bertin Instruments, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France); 2010 Geno/Grinder-2010, -2025, -2030 and 1600 MiniG (SPEX SamplePrep, Metuchen, NJ); MagNA Lyser (Roche Applied Science, Penzberg, Germany); Powerlyser-24 (MO BIO Laboratories, Carlsbad, CA); Bead Rupter-4, -12, -24 Elite and -96 (Omni International, Kennesaw, GA); TissueLyser (Qiagen Inc-USA, Valencia, CA); Talboys H.T.H. (Troemner, Thorofare, NJ); SpeedMill PLUS (Analytik Jena, Jena, Germany); HT Lysing Homogenizer (Ohaus Corporation, Parsippany-Troy Hills, NJ): Micro Smash MS-100 (Tomy Digital Biology, Tokyo, Japan), UPHO (Geneye, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong), taco Prep Bead Beater (GeneReach, Tiawan), and Pulversette 23 (Fritsch International, Idar-Oberstein, Germany).

The prices of shaking-type bead mill cell disrupters range from $300 to $16,000.

Most of the shaking-type cell disrupters are well designed and meet the criteria needed to achieve maximum cell disruption performance.  When shopping, look for machines that have a shaking speed of at least 2000 rpm; a throw (or displacement) of the vial of at least 3/4 inches and a shaking orientation and pattern that maximizes bead circulation within the vial.  There are additional important factors influencing cell disruption performance and they are numerous and complex. Some manufacturers have chosen to combine shaking speed and the vial throw (displacement) of their machine into a "machine setting" having units of meters/sec.  The term correlates with but does not define cell disruption efficiency.  It makes objective comparison of operating parameters between different brands of bead mill cell disrupters difficult and the reproducibility of a published cell disruption protocol between different beadbeater brands arbitrary.  To deal with this problem, a simple cell disruption time-study using a reference sample and beadbeating for 0.5, 1, 2, 3, and 5 minutes and the machine operating at its maximum speed (or m/sec) setting will pinpoint the optimal disruption time for complete cell lysis...a time that is typically 1 - 3 minutes.

Temperature control is often required when "beadbeating" tissue.  The high energy collision of beads during the disruption process generates enough heat to warm the vial contents about ten degrees per minute of beadbeating.  To prevent destruction or denaturaturation of some intracellular components it is often necessary to start with ice-cold vial contents and interrupt the beadbeating after each minute to cool down the vial and its contents in an ice/water mix.  Some commercial beadbeaters offer accessories designed to help keep the sample vials cold but it is technically difficult to do when vials are shaking back and forth.  Operating the beadbeater in a cold room does not help because cold air is not an efficient heat conductor.  One fortunate exception: A temperature increase is not an issue when extracting nucleic acids in the presence of customary nucleic acid extraction media.

Vortex Stirring- and Rotor Stirring-Bead Mills

Other bead-stirring devices based primarily on vortex-type mixing are the Disruptor-Genie and the Bead Genie (Scientific Industries, Bohemia, NY) and the BulletBlender (Next Advance, Troy, NY).  They deliver lower mixing energies than most shaking-type bead mills and therefore require longer process times to get good cell disruption. An exception to this limitation is the SoniBeast made by BioSpec Products. It processes up to twelve 0.6 mL microtubes or three 2 mL microvials and, unlike the shaking-type beadbeaters, operates using a patented, ultra-high speed vortex motion powered by a 30,000 rpm (500 Hz) motor. Cells are disrupted in seconds rather than minutes, thus making it the fastest acting bead mill cell disrupter on the market.

Larger capacity laboratory bead mill cell disrupters agitate the beads with a rotor rather than by shaking or vortexing. Equipped with efficient cooling jackets, larger sample volumes can be processed without overheating the homogenate. By far the most widely used rotor-type bead mill is the BeadBeater (BioSpec Products, Bartlesville, OK). In three to five minutes of operation, this compact laboratory-sized unit will disrupt a batch of up to 80 g (wet wt) of microbial cells suspended in 250 ml of disruption media or, with smaller chamber attachments, 50 or 15 mL batches of cell suspension. Cell suspensions concentrations as high as forty percent (packed cell volume) can be used. VirTis Company (Gardiner, NY) offers an attachment for its line of high-speed rotary homogenizers which efficiently agitate glass beads in a special fluted flask.  These homogenizers cost about $800.

For homogenization of very small tissue samples (<100 mg) BioSpec Products makes a tissue grinding combination consisting of a battery-powered BioVortexer mixer motor, special plastic SpiralPestles with matching 1.5 ml microtubes and a sample of Grinding Beads. In its use, a small number of 1 mm diameter glass grinding beads are added and the hand-held, battery-powered mixer rotates the pestle with spiraling grooves at ~9000 rpm.  Complete cell lysis of soft tissue (e.g., liver, brain, muscle) is achieved in seconds. The combination (motor, batteries, 100 SpiralPestles with matching 1.5 ml microvials, and beads) sells for about $100.  It is best used when the number of samples to be processed is modest or when electrical power is unavailable.


Rotor-Stator Homogenizers (also called colloid mills or Willems homogenizers)

These homogenizers are well suited for homogenizing plant and animal tissue in liquid media volumes of 1 ml to a few liters.  They generally outperform cutting-blade type Benders. Compared to a blender, foaming and aeration are minimized and smaller sample volumes are easily accommodated. The cellular material is drawn into the apparatus by suction created by a rotor sited inside the end a long static tube or probe (also called a stator). The material centrifugally exits through slots or holes located on the tip of the stator. The product is repeatedly recycled, and because the rotor is turning at very high speeds, the tissue is reduced in size by a combination of liquid shear forces and scissor-like mechanical shearing occurring at the tip of the probe. The process is quite fast and, depending upon the toughness of the tissue sample, desired results are usually obtained in 5-60 seconds. For the recovery of intracellular organelles or receptor site complexes, shorter times and/or reduced rotor speeds are used. When using smaller-sized rotor-stator probes the tissue sample must often be pre-chopped into pieces less than 1 mm in cross-section with a scalpel or razor blade prior to processing in order for the sample to be drawn inside the hole at the tip of the stator. If the sample has already been stored frozen, a cryopulverizer (a device that quickly powders tissue at liquid nitrogen temperatures - see below) can be used to break the tissue sample into small pieces without thawing. Some rotor-stator manufacturers offer probes having a saw-like structure on the tip of the stator which helps break up samples initially too large to enter the probe.  This feature helps but homogenization time is slower.  Unlike many other types of mechanical cell disrupters, rotor-stators homogenizers generate essentially no heat during operation.

Most laboratory rotor-stator homogenizers are top-driven with a compact, high-speed electric motor which turns at 8,000 to 35,000 rpm. The size of the rotor-stator probe (also called the generator) can vary from the diameter of a drinking straw for 0.5-50 mL sample volumes to much larger units capable of handling 10 liters or more. There is an important relationship between rotor speed and stator diameter. In principle, the top rotor speed of the homogenizer should double for each halving of the rotor diameter. It is not rpm per se but the tip velocity of the rotor that is the important operating parameter. Ten to twenty meters per second (2000 to 4000 fpm) are acceptable tip speeds for tissue disruption. Unfortunately, most smaller-sized commercial rotor-stator homogenizers small enough to easily fit into a microtube fall short of this standard. Other factors such as rotor-stator design (there are many), materials used in its construction, and ease of cleaning are also important to consider in selecting a rotor-stator homogenizer. Some manufacturers are BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK), Brinkmann Instruments (Westbury, NY), Charles Ross & Son Company (Hauppauge, NY), Craven Laboratories (Austin, TX), IKA Works (Cincinnati, OH), Omni International (Gainsville, VA), Pro Scientific (Monroe, CT), Silverson Machines (Bay Village, OH), and VirTis Company (Gardiner, NY). The cost of complete units (motor plus rotor-stator head or generator) ranges from $600 to $5000.

Laboratory-sized homogenizers function properly only with liquid samples in the low to medium viscosity range (<10,000 cps). The speed and efficiency of homogenization is compromised by using too small a unit, and the volume range over which a given homogenizer rotor-stator prober size will function efficiently is only about ten-fold. Foaming and aerosols can be a problem with rotor-stator homogenizers. Keeping the tip of the homogenizer well submerged in the media and the use of properly sized vessels helps with the first problem. Square-shaped homogenization vessels give better results than round vessels and it is also beneficial to hold the immersed tip off-center. Aerosols can be minimized, but not completely eliminated, by using properly covered vessels (VirTis, Brinkmann, and Omni). Even though a number of the laboratory rotor-stator homogenizers use fully enclosed motors, none of them are rated explosion-proof. Therefore, due caution should be followed when using flammable organic solvents by conducting the homogenization in a well-ventilated hood.

Bottom-driven laboratory rotor-stator homogenizers are a new entry to the laboratory. The rotor-stator assembly is usually placed within a sealed chamber or container, fits blender motor bases, and has working volumes of 100-1000 mL. They cost about $250 - $400 and are available from BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK) and Eberbach Corporation (Ann Arbor, MI).

Closely related rotor-stator homogenizers, called dispersers, are used for preparing large volumes of crude plant and animal aqueous extract. Operating like a household garbage disposal unit, the rotor-stator mechanism quickly homogenizes and liquefies kilogram quantities of biomass. The sample is suspended in one or more liters of media, loaded into a top reservoir, and homogenized either in a continuous or batch mode. Costing $600 to $7000, two manufacturers are BioSpec Products and IKA Works.

Blade Homogenizers

Although less efficient than rotor-stator homogenizers, and aeration and foaming can be a problem, blade homogenizers (commonly called blenders) have been used for many years to produce fine brie and extracts from plants and animal tissue. Blenders cannot efficiently disrupt microorganisms. In this class of homogenizer, a set of stainless steel cutting blades rotate at speeds of 6,000-50,000 rpm inside a glass, plastic or stainless steel container. The blades are either bottom- or top-driven. Some of the higher speed homogenizers can reduce tissue samples to a consistent particulate size with distributions as small as 4 microns, as determined by flow cytometric analysis. After blending, some plant tissue homogenates undergo enzymatic browning, an oxidizing and cross-linking process, which can complicate subsequent separation purification procedures. Enzymatic browning is minimized by carrying out the extraction in the absence of oxygen or in the presence of oxygen-scavenging thiol compounds such as mercaptoethanol. The addition of polyethyleneimine, metal chelators, or certain mild detergents such as Triton X-100 or Tween 80 also helpful.

When using a blender, use caution when blending with flammable solvents such as alcohol or acetone or when homogenizing diseased tissues. Blenders use brush motors to achieve their high speeds and, therefore, spark during operation. Also, aerosols readily form while blending. Use a sealed blender container and operate it in a well-ventilated hood. Blade homogenizers can process liquid sample sizes from 2 ml to one gallon. Accessories for blenders include cooling jackets for temperature control, closed containers to minimize aerosol formation and entrapment of air, special vessels made of stainless steel, semi-micro containers, and even insulated vessels for use with cryogenic solvents (see Freeze fracturing). Manufactures of a scientific line of blenders include British Medical Enterprises (London, England), ESGE (Basel, Switzerland), Hamilton Beach Commercial (Washington, NC), Omni International (Waterbury, CT), The VirTis Company (Gardiner, NY), and the original Waring Products Division (New Hartford, CT). Accessory vessels for Hamilton-Beach brand blenders are manufactured by BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK) and for Waring brand blenders by Eberbach Corporation (Ann Arbor, MI). Prices for blade homogenizers range from about $100 to $2000.

Freeze Fracturing or Cryopulverization

Both microbial pastes and plant and animal tissue can be frozen in liquid nitrogen and then ground with a common mortar and pestle at the same low temperature. The hard frozen cells are fractured under the mortar because of their brittle nature. Also, at these low temperatures, ice crystals may act as an abrasive.  The end product of this process can range from very small pieces of tissue the size of grains of salt to preparations with almost all of the cells disrupted.  With respect to the latter, cryopulverization offers a unique mechanical cell disruption method capable of delivering very high molecular weight DNA.

The classic cryopulverizer a ceramic mortar and pestle precooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures.  BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK) makes an improved version of this simple tool specifically designed for cryopulverization called the Cryo-cup Grinder. There are additional devices used to cryopulverize tissue samples. Caheravirane Schull Co. Cork, Ireland, Spectrum Medical Industries (Carson, CA), and BioSpec Products manufacture freeze fracturing devices called, respectively, CellCrusher, Bessman tissue pulverizer and BioPulverizer.  These freeze-fracturing devices fragment 10 mg to 10 g quantities of soft or fibrous tissue such as skin or cartilage to the size of grains of salt. This material is then easily and quickly homogenized by other cell disruption methods. Looking somewhat like a tablet press, these pulverizers consist of a hole machined into a stainless steel base into which fits a piston or rod.  Each differs in structural details of the hole and/or piston. The base and piston are pre-cooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures. Then hard frozen animal or plant tissue is placed in the chilled hole.  Finally, the chilled piston is placed in the hole and given one or two sharp blows with a hammer. The resulting frozen, powder-like material can be further processed by Pestle and Tube, Bead Mill, Rotor-stator homogenizer, Sonicator, etc.  Cryopulverizers come in several sizes and cost $400 to $700. Two other "hammerless" cryopulverizers, available from BioSpec Products, are the MicroCryoCrusher, a hand-operated screw press that is especially suited for cryopulverizing small samples of fresh bone or teeth, and the CryogenicTissueGrinder, a high-speed blade mill that cryopulverizes 0.5 - 10 grams of microbial, plant or animal tissue to a fine powder in the presence of dry ice.  Both cost about $100.


Grinding biological material in a mortar or tube containing sand, alumina or glass powder is roughly the equivalent of bead-milling (see above). The method works reasonably well with all types of biomass but is strictly small-scale and is labor-intensive. Microbial cell paste or prechopped tissue,  a minimum volume of buffer, and 0.5-1 volume of grinding media is mixed and ground with a mortar and pestle. Disruption efficiency is poor if too much media is added or smaller charges of grinding media are used. Also, the grinding powder has a high surface area and may adsorb significant amounts of charged biomolecules such as nucleic acids and proteins.

Pestle and Tube Homogenizers (also called tissue grinders)

Are used to disrupt fresh animal tissue. While variations of the pestle and tube homogenizer have names like Potter, Potter-Elvehjem, Dounce, and Ten Broeck, as a group they consist of test-tubes made of glass, inert plastic or stainless steel into which is inserted a tight-fitting pestle (clearance about 0.1-0.2 mm) made of like materials. The walls of the test tube and pestle can be smooth or have a ground finish. Most tissues must be cut or chopped into small pieces (~1 mm in cross-section) with scissors or a single-edge razor blade before being suspended in a 3-10 fold volume excess of a medium in the test-tube). The pestle is manually worked to the bottom of the tube, thus tearing and crushing tissue as it is forced between the sides of the pestle and the wall of the tube. The grinding action occurs again as the pestle is withdrawn. Five to thirty repetitions of this low shear method are required to homogenize the tissue. Rotation of the pestle at about 500-1000 rpm with an electric motor while the test tube is manually raised and lowered speeds up the process. While pestle and tube homogenization is simple and the equipment used is usually inexpensive, it is labor-intensive and, in the case of fragile glass homogenizers, potentially dangerous. Even so, this homogenizer continues to be popular because of its extremely gentle action. Often it is the method of choice for the preparation of small quantities of subcellular organelles from soft animal tissues such as the brain or liver. Microorganisms cannot be disrupted with pestle homogenizers.

Commercially available glass or plastic pestle homogenizers with batch capacities of 0.1-50 mL generally cost $15-$100 and are available from many manufacturers including Ace Glass (Vineland, NJ), Bell-Art Products (Wayne, NJ), Bellco Glass (Vineland, NJ), BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK), Kontes (Vineland, NJ), Thomas Scientific (Swedesboro, NJ), Tri-R Instruments (Rockville Center, NY), Sage Products (Crystal Lake, IL), Research Products International (Prospect, IL) and Wheaton Industries (Millville, NJ).  Stainless steel tissue grinders, while more expensive ($200 - $250, BioSpec Products and Wheaton), can be efficiently cooled and tolerate vigorous homogenization without risk of shattering.

A hand-held, battery-powered motor unit designed to drive a disposable plastic pestle in a 1.5 ml conical microcentrifuge tube is made by BioSpec Products and Bell-Arts Products ($50-80). The efficiency of this pestle has recently been improved by BioSpec Products by adding spiral grooves on the pestle surface.  This enhances the circulation of tissue being processed and, by also including a small number of grinding beads, cell disruption of microorganisms is possible.

Solid Tissue Presses and Dispersers

There are several mechanical devices that reduce soft tissue to a much smaller size by forcing the solid tissue sample through an array of small holes or a stainless steel screen.  In most cases, no liquid media is added to the sample prior to homogenization, and, depending on the press used, the exiting, dispersed tissue can have a texture, of course, hamburger meat to fine paste-like liver pate. While it is not an effective way to disrupt cells per se, it is used as a preliminary step for complete homogenization using other physical, chemical, or enzymatic methods.

The well-known household meat grinder or mincer has been used for many years for the preparation of animal tissue extracts. The tissue is mechanically forced through holes in a metal sieve plate while rotating blades slowly sweep across the face of the sieve plate cutting the extruded meat into 0.3 - 0.5 mm fragments.  These meat grinders cut flexible tissue-like muscle better if the tissue is processed slightly frozen.

For smaller tissue samples, BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK) manufactures hand-operated tissue presses for the preparation of highly dispersed tissue as does EDCO Scientific (Chapel Hill, NC). There are several models of these mechanical presses, all capable of generating considerable pushing force.  Sample sizes from 0.1 grams up to 50 grams of soft tissue are pushed through sieve plates having 0.5 to 3 mm holes, much like the action of a common kitchen garlic press. Compared to other mechanical cell dispersion methods, they excel in producing a significant proportion of viable single tissue cells (10-40%).  Hard or fibrous tissues like tendon, skin, leaves, and seeds cannot pass through these presses. The devices cost from $35 to $400. Fred S. Carver (Wabash, IN) has a compact hydraulic laboratory tissue press for the extraction of intracellular liquids and oils for about $1600.  The insoluble plant fibers and cell debris is discarded.  On a much smaller scale, BioSpec Products (Bartlesville, OK) make a simple, hand-operated plant leaf press. Combined with a special Plant Leaf Collection Card containing cellulose filter paper, it is primarily used for the recovery and preservation of nucleic acids and soluble protein samples in the field - distant from an analytical facility.

Another group of devices designed to disperse solid tissue differs from the above presses or grinders.  Bioreba (Chapel Hill, NC) makes a hand-held crusher designed for the whole, fresh plant leaves.  It consists of a circular array of external steel balls that manually crush a few leaves and a minimal amount of extraction media inside a tough Mylar plastic bag. The grinder and bags cost about $200.  Several overseas companies make Paddle- or Bag-Blenders [Seward Laboratories (West Sussex, UK), IUL Instruments (Barcelona, Spain), Synbiosis (Cambridge, UK), Interscience Laboratories (Saint Nom la Breteche, France), bioMerleux Industry (Marcy l'Etroile, France), Corning Gosselin (Hazebrouck Cedex, France)].  These motor-driven machines reduce processed food, soil samples, feces, and intact, soft plant and animal tissue to a suspension suitable for microbial testing.  The solid sample is placed in a nylon or polyethylene bag and a minimal amount of extraction media is added. The top of the plastic bag is sealed by a clamp built into the door of the paddle blender and the bag contents are smashed with two flat paddles rapidly alternating back and forth against the bag and door surface at speeds of 5-10 strokes per second.  In less than a minute, the bag's contents are dispersed and homogenized.  Current Paddle Blenders are designed to work with multi-gram quantities of bio-material and are priced from $3000 to $6000.

Ultrasonic Disintegrators

These devices generate intense sonic pressure waves in liquid media and are widely used to disrupt cells. Under the right conditions, the pressure waves form transient microbubbles that grow and collapse violently. Called cavitation, the implosion generates a shock wave with enough energy to break cell membranes and even break covalent bonds.

Modern ultrasonic processors use piezoelectric generators made of lead zirconate titanate crystals. The vibrations are transmitted down a titanium metal horn or probe tuned to make the processor unit resonate at 15-25 kHz. The rated power output of ultrasonic processors varies from 10 to 375 Watts. What really counts is the power density at the probe tip. Higher output power is required to sustain good performance in large-sized probes. For cell disruption, probe densities should be at least 100 W/cm2, and the larger the better for tip amplitude (typical range: 30-250 microns). Some manufacturers of ultrasonic disintegrators are Artek Systems (Farmington, NY), Branson Sonic Power Company (Danbury, CT), Hielscher Technology (Teltow, Germany), RIA Research Corp. (Hauppauge, NY), Sonic Systems (Newton, PA), Ultrasonic Power Corporation (Freeport, IL) and VirTis Company (Gardiner, NY).

Ultrasonic disintegrators generate considerable heat during processing. For this reason, the sample should be kept ice cold. For microorganisms, the addition of 0.1 - 0.5 mm diameter glass beads in a ratio of one volume beads to two volumes liquid is recommended, although this modification will eventually erode the sonicator tip. Tough tissues like skin or tendon should be pre-chopped or macerated first in a tissue press, grinder, or pulverized in liquid nitrogen (see details above). Use small vessels during ultrasonic treatment and place the probe tip deep enough into the sample suspension to avoid foaming. Finally, one should be aware that free radicals can be generated during sonication and that these radicals react with most biomolecules. Damage by oxidative free radicals can be minimized by flushing the solution with nitrogen gas and/or including radial scavengers like cysteine, dithiothreitol or other -SH compounds in the media.


A comprehensive discussion of cell disruption equipment and methods is covered by the author in Chapter 3 of Purification and Analysis of Recombinant Proteins, Seetharam and Sharma, editors, published by Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1991.  Additional methods discussed are High-Pressure Homogenizers, Autolysis, Enzymatic lysis, Dehydration, Chemical lysis, Solvent lysis, and Programmed self-destruction.  [The relevant Chapter is available on the internet, pg.57.  It can be read but, unfortunately, not copied].


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