In cell culture, cells are removed from their natural habitat and are placed in an artificial environment ideal for cell growth. This means oxygen and various nutrients are to be evenly distributed, and that optimal temperature conditions should be set in a way that propels these cells to grow.
In order for such conditions to materialize, what you need is an incubator and a lab shaker. The former is responsible for maintaining optimal temperature conditions, whereas the latter blends and distributes oxygen and various nutrients throughout the culture.
Their respective roles are combined into one instrument referred to as an incubator shaker. Incubator shakers eliminate the need to separately purchase an incubator and a shaker. Incubator shakers make cell culturing more time efficient since oxygen, temperature, and nutrients are provided by a single system, thus shortening culture growth periods. In addition, it allows for an easier analysis of how various conditions contribute to cell growth, since all of these are taken care of by one laboratory instrument.
When purchasing an incubator shaker, there are a number of factors to consider, such as its features, types, sizes. Read on as we walk you through the things you should keep in mind, to get the right incubator shaker for you.
1. Key Features of Incubator Shakers
When buying an incubator shaker, you should keep in mind its key features, and the role each of these features play. Most of these should come with your incubator shaker of choice, in order to yield your desired cell culture results.
Firstly, an incubator shaker must be programmable. By this, we mean you should be able to program a set of steps for it to follow, so as to make experiments easier & faster. The incubator shaker should be equipped with memory to store multiple, unique sets of steps that can either be time-based, speed-based, and temperature-based. Ultimately, these features allow for a more precise control of parameters that may either accelerate, or slow the process of cell culture.
Given that different cell types need distinct temperature conditions to grow, another factor to consider when buying an incubator shaker is the temperature range it provides. More importantly, the incubator shaker should allow temperature-based configurations. If you are experimenting on plant cells, their artificial environment should be 20°C - 30°C. Animal cell types, on the other hand, need more specific thermal conditions for growth. For instance, Mammalian cell growth thrive under thermal conditions set to 37°C. Meanwhile, Amphibians are most likely to grow in thermal conditions set in 15°C.
Adjustable Rotation Speed (RPM)
An incubator shaker’s rotation speed is measured by RPM, or revolutions-per-minute. This measures the number of rotations around a fixed axis in a given minute. Similar to temperature, the incubator shaker’s rotation speed varies from one cell type to another. Animal cell types need 40 - 100 RPM, whereas plant cell types need 100 - 150 RPM. Therefore, you should take note of your incubator shaker’s RPM range, and make sure it allows speed-based configurations.
Adequate Alarm System
In cell culturing, or any other lab experiment for that matter, it is inevitable for errors to occur from time to time. Having said this, an incubator shaker must be equipped with an adequate alarm system, providing audio and visual alarms whenever experimental errors arise. Incubator shakers must include alarms for imbalance load, power error/outage/recovery, open door or lid, communication error, plus other system parameter errors depending on your settings.
Triple-Eccentric Counterbalanced Drive System
Incubator shakers are capable of providing reliable results, as long as they have optimal endurance. Therefore, we recommend getting an incubator shaker with a triple-eccentric counterbalanced drive system for more demanding applications. A heavy-duty drive system allows shakers to perform your preferred specifications and imparts a uniform motion to every flask. In addition, a heavy-duty drive system allows incubator shakers to perform effectively, even in cases wherein shaker platforms are fully loaded and/or operating at maximum speed.
Accessories and Options
Last, but not least, you might also want to consider purchasing a set of accessories to help with storing the nutrients to be distributed throughout the cells’ artificial environment. Some essential incubator shaker accessories are:
- Universal and Dedicated platforms
- Flask clamps
- Test tube racks
- Microplate holders
- Utility carriers
- Sticky mats
- Gas manifold port (for Incubator Shaker)
2. Different Incubator Shaker Types
It’s also important to take note that there are a number of incubator shaker types available. Each type has a distinct feature that separates it from others. Thus, you should keep in mind the specific configuration settings you need to get the results you want on your experiment.
Digital Incubator Shakers vs Analog Incubator Shakers
Digital incubator shakers like the Benchmark Scientific H1010 Shaking Incubator are equipped with a digital control panel, display, and a micro-processing unit. Through these units, factors such as time, speed, and temperature can easily be configured. Certain incubator shaker models come with multi-step programming, allowing the incubator shaker to perform functions as simple as programming speed & temperature and as complex as multi-step programs with auto-ramp up/down of speed & temperature.
On the other hand, analog incubator shakers don’t allow as many configurations compared to digital ones. Instead, they’re adjusted by mechanical dials placed on the front of the incubator shaker unit, and such adjustments are only limited to lab mixing.
Orbital Incubator Shakers vs Reciprocal Incubator Shakers
Orbital incubator shaker like the Benchmark Scientific H1001-M Mini Shaking Incubator imparts smooth, circular agitation for culturing cells. A separate orbital shaker is placed inside an incubator, whereas orbital incubator shakers come equipped with built-in temperature control. When it comes to culturing bacteria, yeast, and insect cells overnight, purchasing an orbital incubator shaker is highly recommended.
If orbital incubator shakers use circular agitation, reciprocal incubator shakers impart a reciprocal mixing motion, pushing the liquid from one side of the beaker to another. The reciprocal mixing motion is recommended for western blots, and microbial cultures.
Non-refrigerated Incubator Shaker vs Refrigerated Incubator Shaker
Both non-refrigerated and refrigerated incubator shakers set optimal conditions for cell growth, and incorporate oxygen & other nutrients throughout the cells. The difference is their temperature range.
A non-refrigerated incubator shaker usually has a temperature range of 5°C (ambient) up to 80°C. Meaning, you are only limited to setting warm, ambient thermal conditions. If you are experimenting on the growth of specimens that require a considerably large amount of heat, such as thermophiles, bacteria, and yeast, then it is recommended to use a non-refrigerated incubator shaker.
Refrigerated incubator shakers, on the other hand, can provide thermal conditions as low as -15°C, and is recommended for insect cell culturing. Despite propagating at a temperature range of 24°C - 28°C, the artificial environment insect cells are placed in should be kept at a very low temperature, especially when being used for insect physiology, pathology, molecular, and developmental biology.
CO2 Incubator Shakers
Given its name, CO2 incubator shakers control CO2 levels throughout the cell culture. These incubator shakers are specifically designed for non-adherent/suspension cell culture applications, which are maintained in sterile culture flasks that aren’t tissue-culture treated. Cell types that need CO2 to grow are mammalian and stem cells. If you are leaning towards this type of incubator shaker then check out the Benchmark Scientific H3501 Mini CO2 Shaking Incubator.
Microplate Incubator Shakers
Microplate incubator shaker like the Troemner 1000MP Incubating Microplate Shaker is designed for DNA hybridization, and are primarily for hybridizations and immunoassays. They are space efficient, since they can be placed in a small bench space, which makes it perfect for medium-sized laboratories.
3. Incubator Shaker Size Types
The third and last factor to consider when buying an incubator shaker is its size. The size you’ll be needing is determined by the amount of workload you need for a certain experiment, and how large your laboratory is. Incubator shaker size types vary from benchtop, floor-model, and large capacity incubator shakers.
The smallest of all incubator shaker size types, benchtop incubator shakers accommodate tight bench spaces, for portable and efficient use.
If your cell culture application requires a heavy workload, and your laboratory has an ample amount of space, then floor-model incubator shakers are recommended for you. They effectively accommodate large volume applications, and can hold up to five 6 litre flasks. It also comes with heavy workload shaking, with fast heating and cooling performance.
The most complete in terms of features, large capacity incubator shakers come with a stackable feature, which hastens the culturing process and creates additional capacity in the laboratory.
Large Capacity incubator shakers are recommended for applications that process a bigger volume of samples, since they need a large enough capacity to for flasks or tubes of various sizes. In most cases, it is recommended for these incubator shakers to have a maximum load capacity of 30 kg (or 66.1 lbs).
4. Incubated Shaker Price Ranges
Incubator shakers come in a wide variety of price ranges. For those that have more than enough funding to acquire the latest incubator shaker units, buying them brand new should be no problem. The biggest advantage to buying brand new machines would be that they come with the latest technology and feature a robust set of functionalities and add-ons.