Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business
A benchtop shaker on a lab bench
iStock, unoL

Stirring Up Success in Sample Preparation Using Advanced Homogenization Techniques

How advanced homogenization techniques help ensure reproducibility

by
Jordan Willis, BSc

Jordan Willis, BSc, is a PhD candidate and science writer with a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and genetics. He has expertise in fungal biology and is interested in nutrient...

ViewFull Profile.
Learn about ourEditorial Policies.
Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify
0:00
5:00

Throughout history, people have held an innate understanding that the crushing, grinding, and mashing of substances is an effective preparation method. Although the simple mortar and pestle is still broadly used, the societal need for accurate and reliable homogenization methods is increasing over time, particularly in the fields of molecular biology, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage production. Fortunately, this need is fueling the emergence of robust technologies and advanced techniques that allow for much greater consistency and reproducibility during sample testing and in the final products.

How do advanced homogenization techniques increase reproducibility?

Homogenization is the process of blending or reorganizing components into smaller particles or droplets to ensure the uniformity and consistency of a substance or sample. Any homogenization technique that can produce smaller particles, enhanced dispersion, or a controlled environment should increase the consistency and uniformity of the samples or products. One of the key goals of homogenization is to increase the reproducibility of testing and final products, but how is that accomplished using advanced techniques?

Standardized protocols, training, and documentation: When homogenizing, much of the reproducibility is derived from ensuring that your homogenization devices are programmed with the appropriate settings for the task at hand. This effect will be enhanced if device operators receive standardized training on the equipment and record the proper documentation for later review and traceability. This ensures that each sample receives identical treatment, thereby reducing variability that may come from manual homogenization techniques or simple human error. 

Scalability, quality control, and consistency across batches: By maintaining consistent performance, advanced homogenization methods enable scalability as batch and volume sizes expand. Quality control, through rigorous testing and documentation, provides oversight of the entire process to ensure that procedures and products are reproducible. This may include the use of internal or third-party standards. Adhering to these principles will produce uniform results when testing within a single or set of samples, as well as across multiple production batches.

What are advanced homogenization techniques, and how can they be applied?

Advanced homogenization techniques typically require a controlled environment and the incorporation of features such as high-pressure systems, ultrasonic cavitation, or microfluidization, which enable greater efficiency, reproducibility, and versatility in sample preparation. However, not all homogenization techniques are created equal, nor can they be universally applied, so let’s review some of the prominent advanced methods with examples of their applications:

Bead milling

Bead milling is performed in a bead mill homogenizer. The homogenization process occurs in a sealed grinding chamber that holds samples and customized small beads, typically made of glass, ceramic, or metal. Samples are rapidly agitated by shaking, stirring, or rotating under controlled conditions using frictional and shearing forces to achieve the desired level of homogenization.

Applications: Bead milling is commonly used in the food and beverage industries to process both solid and liquid samples, such as nuts, seeds, spices, and juices made from fruits and vegetables. This technology is also broadly used in biotech and biomedical research for cell lysis and tissue homogenization to release desired cellular components.

High-pressure homogenization

High-pressure homogenizers (HPHs) are used to apply intense pressure that forces samples through a small valve or aperture, creating shearing forces that break down particles. This method is often referred to as the “gold standard” in homogenization tech due to its efficiency, scalability, and applicability to a variety of materials. HPHs typically consist of a pump system to generate pressure, a homogenization chamber to hold the products, a cooling system for heat dissipation, and a series of valves and ports that allow fine-tuned control over processing metrics like pressure, temperature, and flow rate.

Applications: HPHs excel at creating stable emulsions for food products, particularly those requiring uniform distribution of fats and oils. In scientific research, HPHs can be used for high-throughput cell disruption or nanoparticle production in drug delivery systems.

Ultrasonication

Ultrasonication requires the use of an ultrasonic homogenizer (UH) that generates high-frequency sound waves to agitate particles in liquid samples to perform homogenization. The UH typically consists of a transducer that converts electrical energy into mechanical vibrations emitted through a probe directly into the sample or into a sample-containing liquid (such as water) that serves as a coupling medium that transmits mechanical force indirectly.

Applications: This technology is well-suited for food products that benefit from high-intensity cavitation (the formation and degradation of bubbles or cavities within a liquid) or those requiring degassing that can’t be exposed to shearing forces. Ultrasonication can be useful in the sciences for the same reason, allowing for different approaches to protein, DNA, or RNA extraction where shearing is undesirable.

Microfluidization

Microfluidization is a sophisticated method for processing fluids on a microscale (nanometer to micrometer range). The microfluidizer (or microfluidic homogenizer) homogenizes samples by pumping them through a series of controlled microchannels to expose them to pressure gradients and shearing forces.

Applications: Microfluidization is used in the food and beverage industries to produce nanoemulsions, homogenize dairy products, and improve the texture of beverages and sauces. In science, this process can be used for microencapsulation, where drugs or reagents are encapsulated for controlled release or targeted delivery.

Cryogenic grinding

Cryogenic grinding is a specialized technique for freezing samples via liquid nitrogen or another cryogen and then grinding them into a fine powder using a grinding mill. Samples are typically reduced below their freezing point to increase their brittleness and susceptibility to grinding.

Applications: Cryogenic grinding is used in the food and beverage industries to process heat-sensitive materials, such as spices, herbs, and coffee beans while preserving their flavors and aromas. Similarly, this process is applicable to scientific endeavors involving heat-sensitive materials and biomolecules.

Collectively, cutting-edge homogenization techniques provide enhanced sample preparation capabilities in food production and scientific research. By employing these methods, manufacturers and researchers can precisely control sample particle size, molecule dispersion, and homogeneity to improve processing times and efficiency, product reliability, and reproducibility.

Note: This article was produced with assistance from artificial intelligence.