Ultrasonic Disintegration of Cells

Ultrasonication is an effective means of disintegrating cell structures. Therefore, sonicators are widely used in laboratories to break open cells, extract intracellular molecules, proteins and organelles for research and analysis. On industrial scale, ultrasonic disintegration and lysis is used to isolate molecules from cell factories or to promote the digestion of biomass.

What is Ultrasonic Disintegration?

Probe-type sonicator for cell disintegration and lysisUltrasonic disintegration, also known as ultrasonic homogenization, is a process that uses high-intensity, low-frequency ultrasound waves to break down cell walls and disrupt molecular structures in a liquid medium. This technique is commonly used in various scientific and industrial applications for several purposes:

Cell Disruption: Ultrasonic disintegration is widely used in cell biology and molecular biology to disrupt cell membranes, releasing cellular contents such as proteins, nucleic acids, and organelles. This is useful for extracting intracellular components for analysis or for lysing cells in microbiology and biotechnology processes.

  • Homogenization: It helps in the uniform mixing of components in a sample, especially when dealing with immiscible liquids or when trying to achieve a consistent blend of materials.
  • Protein Extraction: In biology, proteomics life science, the analysis of proteins is a very common task. Before proteins can be analysed in assays, they must be extracted from the cell interior and isolated. Sonicators are the most widely used method for protein extraction.
  • DNA Fragmentation: DNA and RNA are distinct types of nucleic acids that store and encode genetic information in cells. When DNA and RNA are analyzed, the long strands must sometimes be fragmented, a process that can be reliably and efficiently done by sonication.
  • Sample Preparation: In research and analysis, sample preparation is a common procedure before various analytical techniques. Ultrasonic disintegration can help to dissolve or disperse samples, which may improve the accuracy and reproducibility of analyses.

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Probe-type sonicator UP200St equipped with sonotrode S26d2 is used to sonify a vial

Probe-type sonicator UP200St for cell disintegration, cell disruption and extraction

Advantages of Ultrasonic Disintegration

Why using a probe-type sonicator for disintegration, cell disruption and the extraction of intracellular molecules and proteins? A sonicator or ultrasonic dismembrator offers numerous advantages that makes sonication the superior technology when compared to other disintegration methods such as high-pressure homogenization, ball milling or microfluidization.

  • Non-Thermal: Ultrasonic disintegration is a non-thermal method, which means it does not rely on heat to break down materials. This is advantageous for applications where high temperatures could degrade heat-sensitive samples.
  • Precise and Controlled: The process can be controlled with high precision, allowing for specific disruption, mixing, or particle size reduction.
  • Rapid and Efficient: Ultrasonication is generally a fast and efficient method, making it suitable for high-throughput applications.
  • Reduced Chemical Usage: In many cases, ultrasonic disintegration can reduce the need for harsh chemicals or organic solvents, which can be environmentally friendly and reduce the risk of chemical contamination.
  • No Milling Media, No Nozzles: Alternative disintegration techniques, such as ball/bead milling or high-pressure homogenizers, come with disadvantages. Ball/bead milling necessitates the use of milling media (beads or pearls), which must be laboriously separated and cleaned. High-pressure homogenizers have nozzles that are prone to clogging. In contrast, ultrasonic homogenizers are easy to use, highly reliable and robust, requiring very little maintenance.
  • Versatility: It can be applied to a wide range of materials, including bacteria, plant cells, mammalian tissue, algae, fungi etc. making it a versatile technique in various fields.
    Scalability: The ultrasonic technique can be scaled up for industrial processes, making it suitable for both laboratory and large-scale production applications.

The Working Principle of Ultrasonic Disintegration and Cell Disruption

Ultrasonic dismembrator UP200St, a 200 watts powerful probe-type sonicator, is used for cell disintegration and cell disruptionUltrasonication generates alternating high-pressure and low-pressure waves in the exposed liquid. During the low-pressure cycle, the ultrasonic waves create small vacuum bubbles in the liquid that collapse violently during a high-pressure cycle. This phenomenon is termed cavitation. The implosion of the cavitation bubble causes strong hydrodynamic shear-forces that cause first sonoporation and subsequent the efficient disruption of cell structures. Intracellular molecules and organelles are completely released into the solvent.

Ultrasonic Disintegration of Cell Structures

The shear forces can disintegrate fibrous, cellulosic material into fine particles and break the walls of the cell structure. This releases more of the intra-cellular material, such as starch or sugar into the liquid. In addition to that the cell wall material is being broken into small debris.

This effect can be used for fermentation, digestion and other conversion processes of organic matter. After milling and grinding, ultrasonication makes more of the intra-cellular material e.g. starch as well as the cell wall debris available to the enzymes that convert starch into sugars. It does also increase the surface area exposed to the enzymes during liquefaction or saccharification. This does typically increase the speed and yield of yeast fermentation and other conversion processes, e.g. to boost the ethanol production from biomass.

Use Ultrasonic DisintegrationReliably and Efficiently at Any Scale

Hielscher sonicators are available with different power ratings and processing capacities. Whether you want to sonicate small biological samples from a few microlitres to a few litres or need to process large cell or biomass streams for production, Hielscher Ultrasonics will offer you the most suitable ultrasonic dismembrator for your biological application.

This tutorial explains what type of sonicator is best for your sample preparation tasks such as lysis, cell disruption, protein isolation, DNA and RNA fragmentation in laboratories, analysis, and research. Choose the ideal sonicator type for your application, sample volume, sample number and throughput. Hielscher Ultrasonics has the ideal ultrasonic homogenizer for you!

How to Find the Perfect Sonicator for Cell Disruption and Protein Extraction in Science and Analysis

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The table below gives you an indication of the approximate processing capacity of our lab-size ultrasonicators:

Recommended DevicesBatch VolumeFlow Rate
UIP400MTP 96-Well Plate Sonicatormulti-well / microtiter platesn.a.
Ultrasonic CupHornCupHorn for vials or beakern.a.
GDmini2ultrasonic micro-flow reactorn.a.
VialTweeter0.5 to 1.5mLn.a.
UP100H1 to 500mL10 to 200mL/min
UP200Ht, UP200St10 to 1000mL20 to 200mL/min
UP400St10 to 2000mL20 to 400mL/min
Ultrasonic Sieve Shakern.a.n.a.

Please use the form below, if you would like to receive more information regarding the use of ultrasonic devices for the purpose of the disintegration of cells. We will be glad to assist you.

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Please use the form below to request additional information about our sonicators for disintegration and cell disruption, biology-related applications, protocols and price. We will be glad to discuss your process with you and to offer you an ultrasonic dismembrator fulfilling your requirements!









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This video clip shows the Hielscher ultrasonic homogenizer UP100H, an ultrasonicator widely used for sample preparation in laboratories.

Ultrasonic Homogenizer UP100H

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The table below gives you an indication of the approximate processing capacity of our industrial ultrasonicators:

Batch VolumeFlow RateRecommended Devices
200mL to 5L0.05 to 1L/minUIP500hdT
1 to 10L0.1 to 2L/minUIP1000hdT
5 to 20L0.2 to 4L/minUIP2000hdT
10 to 100L2 to 10L/minUIP4000hdT
15 to 150L3 to 15L/minUIP6000hdT
n.a.10 to 100L/minUIP16000
n.a.largercluster of UIP16000
Ultrasonic homogenizer UP400St for sample preparation in biology, microbiology and life science

UP400St ultrasonic homogenizer for cell solubilization, lysis and protein extraction



Literature / References

Ultrasonic cuphorn for the uniform and intense sonication of up to 5 closed tubes and vials for uniform and rapid sterile sample homogenisation.

Ultrasonic cuphorn for the intense sonication of closed tubes and vials for sterile homogenization of samples.


High performance ultrasonics! The Hielscher product range covers the full spectrum from the compact lab ultrasonicator over bench-top units to full-industrial ultrasonic systems.

Hielscher Ultrasonics manufactures high-performance ultrasonic homogenizers from lab to industrial size.


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