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Biology LibreTexts

9.1: Cell Disruption

There are several ways to break open cells. Lysis methods include lowering the ionic strength of the medium cells are kept in. This can cause cells to swell and burst. Mild surfactants may be used to enhance the efficiency of lysis. Most bacteria, yeast, and plant tissues, which have cell walls, are resistant to such osmotic shocks, however, and stronger disruption techniques are often required.

Enzymes may be useful in helping to degrade the cell walls. Lysozyme, for example, is very useful for breaking down bacterial walls. Other enzymes commonly employed include cellulase (plants), glycanases, proteases, mannases, and others.

Mechanical agitation may be employed in the form of tiny beads that are shaken with a suspension of cells. As the beads bombard the cells at high speed, they break them open. Sonication (20-50 kHz sound waves) provides an alternative method for lysing cells. The method is noisy, however, and generates heat that can be problematic for heat-sensitive compounds.

Another means of disrupting cells involves using a “cell bomb". In this method, cells are placed under very high pressure (up to 25,000 psi). When the pressure is released, the rapid pressure change causes dissolved gases in cells to be released as bubbles which, in turn, break open the cells.

Cryopulverization is often employed for samples having a tough extracellular matrix, such as connective tissue or seeds. In this technique, tissues are .ash-frozen using liquid nitrogen and then ground to a fine powder before extraction of cell contents with a buffer.

Whatever method is employed, the crude lysates obtained contain all of the molecules in the cell, and thus, must be further processed to separate the molecules into smaller subsets, or fractions.


Dr. Kevin Ahern and Dr. Indira Rajagopal (Oregon State University)