Dr. Tarek Elbashiti
Assoc. Prof. of Biotechnology
Biological products synthesized by
fermentation or cell culture are either
intracellular or extracellular.
Intracellular products either occur in a
soluble form in the cytoplasm or are
produced as inclusion bodies (fine particles
deposited within the cells).
Examples of intracellular products include
recombinant insulin and recombinant
A large number of recombinant products
form inclusion bodies in order to accumulate
in larger quantities within the cells.
In order to obtain intracellular products the
cells first have to be disrupted to release
these into a liquid medium before further
separation can be carried out.
Certain biological products have to be
extracted from tissues, an example being
porcine insulin which is obtained from pig
In order to obtain such a tissue-derived
substance, the source tissue first needs to
be homogenized or ground into a cellular
suspension and the cells are then subjected
to cell disruption to release the product into
In the manufacturing process for
intracellular products, the cells are
usually first separated from the culture
This is done in order to reduce the
amount of impurity: particularly
secreted extracellular substances and
unutilized media components.
In many cases the cell suspensions are
thickened or concentrated by
microfiltration or centrifugation in order
to reduce the process volume.
Different types of cells need to be
disrupted in the bio-industry:
• Gram positive bacterial cells
• Gram negative bacterial cells
• Yeast cells
• Mould cells
• Cultured mammalian cells
• Cultured plant cells
• Ground tissue
Fig. 4.1 shows the barriers present in a
gram positive bacteria. The main barrier
is the cell wall which is composed of
peptidoglycan, teichoic acid and
polysaccharides and is about 0.02 to
0.04 microns thick.
The plasma or cell membrane which is
made up of phospholipids and proteins
is relatively fragile.
In certain cases polysaccharide capsules
may be present outside the cell wall.
The cell wall of gram positive bacteria is
particularly susceptible to lysis by the
antibacterial enzyme lysozyme.
Fig. 4.2 shows the barriers present in a
gram negative bacteria.
Unlike gram positive bacteria these do
not have distinct cell walls but instead
have multi-layered envelops.
The peptidoglycan layer is significantly
thinner than in gram positive bacteria.
An external layer composed of
lipopolysaccharides and proteins is usually
Another difference with gram positive
bacteria is the presence of the periplasm
layers which are two liquid filled gaps, one
between the plasma membrane and the
peptidoglycan layer and the other between
the peptidoglycan layer and the external
Periplasmic layers also exits in gram positive
bacteria but these are significantly thinner
than those in gram negative bacteria.
An stylish way to recover the periplasmic
proteins is by the use of osmotic shock.
The periplasm is important in bioprocessing
since a large number of proteins,
particularly recombinant proteins are
secreted into it.
Yeasts which are unicellular have thick cell
walls, typically 0.1 to 0.2 microns in
These are mainly composed of
polysaccharides such as glucans, mannans
The plasma membrane in a yeast cell is
composed of phospholipids and lipoproteins.
Mould cells are largely similar to yeast cells
in terms of cell wall and plasma membrane
composition but are multicellular and
Mammalian cells do not possess the cell wall
and are hence quite fragile (easy to disrupt).
Plant cells on the other hand have very thick
cell walls mainly composed of cellulose and
Cell wall wherever present is the main
barrier which needs to be disrupted to
recover intracellular products.
A range of mechanical methods can be used
to disrupt the cell wall.
Chemical methods when used for cell
disruption are based on specific
targeting of key cell wall components.
For instance, lysozyme is used to disrupt
the cell wall of gram positive bacteria
since it degrades peptidoglycan which is
a key cell wall constituent.
In gram negative bacteria, the
peptidoglycan layer is less susceptible to
lysis by lysozyme since it is shielded by
a layer composed of lipopolysaccharides
Cell membranes or plasma membranes
are composed of phospholipids arranged
in the form of a bilayer with the
hydrophilic groups of the phospholipids
molecules facing outside (see Fig. 4.3).
The hydrophobic residues remain inside
the cell membrane where they are
protected from the aqueous
environment present both within and
outside the cell.
The plasma membrane can be easily
destabilized by detergents, acid, alkali
and organic solvents.
The plasma membrane is also quite
fragile when compared to the cell wall
and can easily be disrupted using osmotic
shock i.e. by suddenly changing the
osmotic pressure across the membrane.
This can be achieved simply by
transferring the cell from isotonic
medium to distilled water.
Cell disruption methods can be classified
into two categories:
physical methods and chemical methods.
• Disruption in bead mill
• Disruption using a rotor-stator mill
• Disruption using French press
• Disruption using ultrasonic vibrations
Chemical and physicochemical
• Disruption using detergents
• Disruption using enzymes e.g. lysozyme
• Disruption using solvents
• Disruption using osmotic shock
The physical methods are targeted more
towards cell wall disruption while the
chemical and physicochemical methods
are mainly used for destabilizing the
I. Physical methods for cell disruption
1. Cell disruption using bead mill
Fig. 4.4 illustrates the principle of cell
disruption using a bead mill.
This equipment consists of a tubular
vessel made of metal or thick glass within
which the cell suspension is placed along
with small metal or glass beads.
The tubular vessel is then rotated about
its axis and as a result of this the beads
start rolling away from the direction of
the vessel rotation.
At higher rotation speeds, some beads
move up along with the curved wall of the
vessel and then cascade back on the
mass of beads and cells below.
The cell disruption takes place due to the
grinding action of the rolling beads as well
as the impact resulting from the
Bead milling can generate enormous
amounts of heat.
While processing thermolabile material, the
milling can be carried out at low
temperatures, i.e. by adding a little liquid
nitrogen into the vessel.
This is referred to as cryogenic bead milling.
An alternative approach is to use glycol
A bead mill can be operated in a batch
mode or in a continuous mode and is
commonly used for disrupting yeast cells
and for grinding animal tissue.
Using a small scale unit operated in a
continuous mode, a few kilograms of yeast
cells can be disrupted per hour.
Larger unit can handle hundreds of kilograms
of cells per hour.
Cell disruption primarily involves breaking
the barriers around the cells followed by
release of soluble and particulate sub-cellular
components into the external liquid medium.
This is a random process and hence
incredibly hard to model.
Empirical models are therefore more often
used for cell disruption:
Where C = concentration of
released product (kg/m3)
Cmax = maximum concentration of
released material (kg/m3)
t = time (s) θ = time constant (s)
The time constant θ depends on
the processing conditions,
equipment and the properties
of the cells being disrupted.
For multiple passes, the
following relation can be used:
A batch of yeast cells was disrupted
using ultrasonic vibrations to release
an intracellular product.
The concentration of released product
in the solution was measured during
2. Cell disruption using rotor-stator mill
Fig. 4.6 shows the principle of cell disruption
using a rotor-stator mill.
This device consists of a stationary block with
a tapered cavity called the stator and a
truncated cone shaped rotating object called
Typical rotation speeds are in the 10,000 to
50,000 rpm range.
The cell suspension is fed into the tiny gap
between the rotating rotor and the fixed
The feed is drawn in due to the rotation and
expelled through the outlet due to centrifugal
The high rate of shear generated in the
space between the rotor and the stator as
well as the turbulence thus generated are
responsible for cell disruption.
These mills are more commonly used for
disruption of plant and animal tissues based
material and are operated in the multi-pass
mode, i.e. the disrupted material is sent
back into the device for more complete
The cell disruption caused within the rotor-
stator mill can be described using the
equations discussed for a bead mill.
3. Cell disruption using French
Fig. 4.8 shows the working principle of a
French press which is a device
commonly used for small-scale recovery
of intracellular proteins and DNA from
bacterial and plant cells.
The device consists of a cylinder fitted
with a plunger which is connected to a
The cell suspension is placed within the
cylinder and pressurized using the
The cylinder is provided with an orifice
through which the suspension emerges at
very high velocity in the form of a fine jet.
The cell disruption takes place primarily due
to the high shear rates influence by the
cells within the orifice.
A French press is frequently provided with
an impact plate, where the jet impinges
causing further cell disruption.
Typical volumes handled by such devices
range from a few millilitres to a few
Typical operating pressure ranges from
10,000 to 50,000 psig.
4. Cell disruption using ultrasonic
Ultrasonic vibrations (i.e. having frequency
greater than 18 kHz) can be used to disrupt
The cells are subjected to ultrasonic
vibrations by introducing an ultrasonic
vibration emitting tip into the cell
suspension (Fig. 4.9).
Ultrasound emitting tips of various sizes are
available and these are selected based on
the volume of sample being processed.
The ultrasonic vibration could be emitted
continuously or in the form of short pulses.
A frequency of 25 kHz is commonly used
for cell disruption.
The duration of ultrasound needed
depends on the cell type, the sample size
and the cell concentration.
These high frequency vibrations cause
cavitations, i.e. the formation of tiny
bubbles within the liquid medium (see
When these bubbles reach resonance
size, they collapse releasing mechanical
energy in the form of shock waves
equivalent to several thousand
atmospheres of pressure.
The shock waves disrupts cells present in
For bacterial cells such as E. coli, 30 to 60 seconds
may be sufficient for small samples.
For yeast cells, this duration could be anything from
2 to 10 minutes.
Fig. 4.11 shows a laboratory scale ultrasonic cell
Ultrasonic vibration is frequently used in conjunction
with chemical cell disruption methods.
In such cases the barriers around the cells are first
weakened by exposing them to small amounts of
enzymes or detergents.
The amount of energy needed for cell disruption is
II. Chemical and physicochemical
methods of cell disruption
1. Cell disruption using detergents
Detergents disrupt the structure of cell membranes by
solubilizing their phospholipids.
These chemicals are mainly used to rupture mammalian
For disrupting bacterial cells, detergents have to be used
in conjunction with lysozyme.
With fungal cells (i.e.yeast and mould) the cell walls
have to be similarly weakened before detergents can act.
Detergents are classified into three categories: cationic,
anionic and non-ionic.
Non-ionic detergents are preferred in bioprocessing
since they cause the least amount of damage to
sensitive biological molecules such as proteins and
Commonly used non-ionic detergents include the
Triton-X series and the Tween series.
However, it must be noted that a large number of
proteins denature or precipitate in presence of
Also, the detergent needs to be subsequently
removed from the product and this usually involves
an additional purification/polishing step in the
Hence the use of detergents is avoided where
2. Cell disruption using enzymes
Lysozyme (an egg based enzyme) lyses bacterial cell
walls, mainly those of the Gram positive type.
Lysozyme on its own cannot disrupt bacterial cells since
it does not lyse the cell membrane.
The combination of lysozyme and a detergent is
frequently used since this takes care of both the barriers.
Lysozyme is also used in combination with osmotic
shock or mechanical cell disruption methods.
The main limitation of using lysozyme:
1. is its high cost.
2. the need for removing lysozyme from the product
3. the presence of other enzymes such as proteases in
3. Cell disruption using organic
Organic solvents like acetone mainly act on the cell
membrane by solubilizing its phospholipids and by
denaturing its proteins.
Some solvents like toluene are known to disrupt
fungal cell walls.
The limitations of using organic solvents are
similar to those with detergents, i.e. the need to
remove these from products and the denaturation
However, organic solvents on account of their
volatility are easier to remove than detergents.
4. Cell disruption by osmotic shock
Osmotic pressure results from a
difference in solute concentration across
a semi permeable membrane.
Cell membranes are semi permeable
and suddenly transferring a cell from an
isotonic medium to distilled water
(which is hypotonic) would result is a
rapid influx of water into the cell.
This would then result in the rapid
expansion in cell volume followed by its
rupture, e.g. if red blood cells are
suddenly introduced into water, these
hemolyse, i.e. disrupt thereby releasing
Osmotic shock is mainly used to lyse
With bacterial and fungal cells, the cell
walls need to be weakened before the
application of an osmotic shock.
Osmotic shock is used to remove
periplasmic substances (mainly proteins)
from cells without physical cell disruption.
If such cells are transferred to hypotonic
buffers, the cells imbibe water through
osmosis and the volume confined by the
cell membrane increase significantly.
The cell wall or capsule which is relatively
rigid does not expand like the cell
membrane and hence the material present
in the periplasmic space is expelled out into
the liquid medium (see Fig. 4.12).