What is a Laboratory Incubator?

Science and technology are ever-evolving. To tap the benefits of these mesmerizing realms, scientists and researchers keep conducting regular experiments.

That said, in the sub-domain of biology, proper equipment is essential to store, grow and maintain cell and tissue cultures. These require highly controlled environmental conditions to develop, which is, in turn, important to achieve accurate laboratory results and findings.

One such useful apparatus that fosters the growth of microbial cultures by maintaining regulated conditions of temperature and humidity in laboratories is the – Laboratory Incubator.

In this blog, we delve into what a laboratory incubator is, its function, and how to choose one, and the common usage of this device in laboratories.

Let’s get started.

What is a laboratory incubator?

Laboratory incubators are specialized devices that ensure a contaminant-free and clean environment, where cell and tissue cultures can be worked upon safely under regulated conditions of temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels.

Broadly the incubators are classified as Gassed incubators (CO2 incubators) and Microbiological incubators. However, there are varied incubators like bioreactors, biological oxygen demand (BOD) units, shaking incubators, and more. Depending on the task complexity and application, laboratory incubators are available in a range of sizes and designs.

What is the common usage for an incubator in a lab?

An incubator is essentially used to grow and nurture cell and tissue cultures in a laboratory. As these elements of human or animal bodies require controlled and regulated temperature and humidity conditions, specialized laboratory equipment is used. Most incubators, besides maintaining temperature and humidity levels, also regulate CO2 levels. These incubators, for instance, help in the growth of the mammalian cells and E.Coli bacteria, which require a temperature of 37oC. In the case of mammalian cells, relative humidity of over 80% and a slightly acidic pH are also required.

The gassed or CO2 incubators particularly help in this aspect as they maintain the temperature at 37oC, humidity at 95%, and a CO2 level of 5%. On the flip side, microbiological incubators operate in a temperature range of 5oC – 70oC. These incubators are primarily used to store and maintain bacterial cultures. Refrigerated Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) incubators are usually used in applications like insect and plant studies and fermentation studies. They operate at a range of 20oC – 45oC. Shaking incubators, on the other hand, are applicable in solubility studies.

What is the function of the incubator?

The incubators perform the integral function of storing the cell and tissue cultures at optimal conditions. They work on the principle that all micro-organisms, cells, and tissues grow and develop only in regulated conditions of temperature, humidity, pH, and CO2 levels. It is essential to maintain the stipulated conditions to conduct experiments on these elements in the laboratory and to derive accurate results.

That said, incubators carry out several functions – all centered around maintaining controlled working conditions. While some incubators help grow microbial and cell cultures, others enable maintenance and storage of cultures to be used later. Incubators also aid in expediting the growth rate of certain microbes, which otherwise take a long time to grow in a natural environment.

Sometimes, these devices are used for breeding insects and hatching eggs. There are cases where incubators have been used to grow microbial colonies, followed by determining their biochemical oxygen demand. In addition, incubators are also useful in storing certain samples of cells and tissues before they can be processed in laboratories.

In a nutshell, though incubators vary in size, design, and capacities, they all work towards one common goal: keeping conditions regulated in the laboratories.

How do I Choose a Laboratory Incubator?

Well, you need to look into various aspects before choosing a laboratory incubator.

The first and foremost criteria are to ascertain the size and capacity of the incubator. This, in turn, depends on various parameters like the number of samples that may be incubated at a given time, the ranges of temperature, humidity, and CO2 in which the experiments or the work will be carried out, and if any water source would be required, etc.

In addition, if the work requires uniform heat distribution or eliminating cold areas, you may need a water-jacketed, air-jacketed, or such incubator. For CO2 incubators, you need to look for proper options like thermal conductivity or infrared sensors.

Besides, incubators that offer features to stay compliant with regulations are required in accredited laboratories. These certified laboratories call for a high degree of accuracy, which only such incubators can meet.

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