Chemical Methods of Cell Disruption

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David Shechter
Aug 24, 2016
min read

Cell disruption, or cell lysis, is achieved when the cell wall or membrane is ruptured, releasing the contents of the cell. Cell disruption is the first step in many biotechnology applications. This sensitive process needs to be controlled as much as possible; and choosing the correct cell lysis method is essential for preserving the desired intracellular contents.

Cell disruption can be achieved in several ways, including mechanical, enzymatic or chemical lysis. Read on to learn more about chemical methods of cell disruption:

The very simplest form of chemical cell lysis is osmotic lysis. Here, cells are suspended in a hypotonic extracellular environment (often a dilute sucrose solution.) This causes the cells to take on water, swell and subsequently burst. Osmotic lysis does not occur in plant cells due to their sturdy cell walls. Organic solvents like alcohols, ether or chloroform can disrupt cells by permeating the cell walls and membranes. These solvents are often used (in combination with shearing forces) with plant cells.

EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is a chelating agent which can be used to disrupt gram negative microorganisms, since it chelates the cations, leaving holes in the cell walls.

Surfactants (commonly called detergents) disrupt the distinct interface between hydrophobic and hydrophilic systems.  Detergents are used in cell lysis buffers and they help to solubilize membrane proteins and lipids thereby causing the cell to lyse and release its contents. Widely used detergents include Triton and sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS).

Chaotropic agents, such as urea and guanidine, are also used for cell lysis. They are capable of bringing some hydrophobic compounds into aqueous solutions. They do this by disrupting the structure of water and making it a less hydrophilic environment and weakening the hydrophobic interactions among solute molecules.

Disadvantages of Chemical Methods of Cell Disruption:

A major drawback in using chemical methods of cell disruption in manufacturing is the cost. Using small amounts of chemicals and enzymes in the R&D laboratory is acceptable; but the cost of using the large volumes required for large-scale production is often not feasible.

Harsh chemicals and detergents can often damage or destroy the contents of the cell if used incorrectly. Lastly, using large volumes of potentially hazardous chemicals creates significant health and safety risks.

The Benefits of Mechanical Cell Disruption with High Pressure Homogenization:

Our BEE brand high-pressure homogenizing technology at Pion allows you to gently rupture cells without damaging the valuable intracellular materials. You are able to control the pressure, allowing for rupture of a variety of cell types. No harsh chemicals are introduced into the process, and all results are 100% scalable to manufacturing.

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