A laboratory incubator is a highly used device in many laboratories around the globe. It is mostly seen in microbiological labs, which deals with microbial cultures and samples. This device maintains and monitors environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, 02 content, CO2 content, and various other factors inside the chamber. Laboratory works in the domain of cell biology, microbiology, molecular biology, and tissue culture necessarily need this device. Both eukaryotic and bacterial cells can be cultured inside this incubator, with maintained and sustainable ambiance inside.
The basic concept of a laboratory incubator
The use of incubators is dated back to the time of Louis Pasteur, when he made use of his staircase, as an incubator. The concept of incubators is also wide and vast in poultry farms, where it is used as an alternative of hens. The controlled environment often results in greater hatch rates, in a standard temperature and humidity. Various brands manufacture these incubators for different purpose of uses.
The basic concept of incubation is insulation that provides an environment differing from the outside. The most primitive designs of incubators contained only simple boxes, which were insulated from inside. These insulated boxed had adjustable heaters inside, which could raise the temperature up to 60- 65°C. Some of them can also raise the temperature to 100°C. The most commonly opted and viable temperature range for both mammalian and bacterial cultures range around 37°C. This range of temperature is easily attainable in simple designed incubators. However, other bacterial strains like budding yeasts have an optimal temperature range of 30°C.
More advanced designs of a laboratory incubator has the efficiency to reduce higher temperatures via refrigeration mechanisms. It can also monitor the humidity and control the CO2 and 02 concentrations inside the device. When it comes to culturing with mammalian cells, a typically humid (>80%) and slightly acidic pH is ideal for better culture growth. The latter is achievable by maintaining the CO2 concentration in or around 5%, inside the incubator.
History of a laboratory incubator
The use of an incubator has always been prevalent since ages. Starting from poultry farms where incubators were a hatching aid, to laboratories where scientists dealt with dead viruses and formulated vaccines; an incubator has always played its incredible part. With the advancement in science, technology and the needs of a laboratory equipment, the design of a laboratory incubator might have changed. However, the primary purpose of the device is still the same. The incubators have also been a critical need in medical sciences in establishing vaccines and experimental researches in molecular and microbiology. Initial incubator designs were quite simple, and came with only temperature controlling features. With the advancement, the first-ever CO2 incubator came into recognition in the 1960s. It became popular when scientists and doctors realised the functionality of these CO2 incubators in studying and culturing bodily fluids and pathogens. Samples, placed in sterilized culture plates are simply placed inside the incubators, with proper covering. The cell growth then gets initiated and enhanced with the regulation of environmental factors inside the device. The recent day science makes use of incubators in fields of genetic engineering as well. Biologically essential substances such as insulin and other proteins can be created with the help of a laboratory incubator
Recent time incubators are highly advanced, with all additional features. Gas incubators are one of the recent inventions. Humidity control, CO2 and O2 control along with temperature control features are all present in recent day incubators.
What is the ideal use of a laboratory incubator?
Laboratory incubators are mostly used to attain a controlled, contaminant-free and reliable work environment. These factors are quite crucial when it comes to dealing with sensitive cell cultures and pathogens. In case of the microbiological studies, bacterial and viral cultures are grown and cultured only inside a laboratory incubator.
There are quite a few designs and categories of an incubator available in the market. Dry-bath incubators with single or double blocks, shaking incubators, bioreactors, biological oxygen demand (BOD) units, and hybridization ovens are all different categories of laboratory incubators. Each of them is specialized in different functions. Sizes of these incubators can range from a tabletop device to a room-sized humongous one. It entirely depends on the type of experiments being carried out and the requirements.
Advancement in these incubator designs are highly witnessed in the current century. Manufacturers are indulging in providing a contamination free zone inside the incubators along with temperature and humidity controls. Thus, the inclusion of antimicrobial copper compartments, decontamination cycles, and HEPA filters inside the laboratory incubators are quite frequent. Along with the advanced features, the price range of these incubators re going higher over time. However, the efficiency is worth the higher costs. Some high-end incubators in sophisticated laboratories also come with LED display monitors and features like data storage, programmable alarms, and removable blocks and shelves.