Upgrading your Microbiology Lab: Essential Equipment and Tools for Successful Experiments

Akanksha Saxena

Microbiology labs are the workhouses for studies about microscopic forms of life.

For microbiology students, a well-equipped microbiology lab provides exposure to the equipment that enables the study of microorganisms like microbial morphology, molecular biology, biochemistry, etc. It also provides a platform for them to increase dexterity in daily lab handling and helps them hone their microbiology lab skills.

This article highlights some of the key pieces of microbiology lab equipment and sheds some light on how they are used for laboratory experiments:

1. Autoclave

When studying microorganisms, sterility issues gain prime importance. Culturing and growing single microorganisms are one of the first skills that are taught to undergraduate and postgraduate students in microbiology labs. To maintain the required standards of sterility and single organism colonies, it is important all glassware, plasticware, and reusable lab utilities are autoclaved before use. An autoclave works on the principle of pressure and temperature to kill unwanted microorganisms that can cause lab contaminations. Autoclaves are also used to decontaminate media and solutions post-experiments as disposing of them without killing the microbes might lead to microbial spillage. One can refer to free online resources to learn more about sterilization techniques.

Labster also provides a comprehensive and interactive simulation that can help you engage your students in the sterilization lecture.
The autoclave is presented as a big, grey, oval vertical cylinder. Inside the cylinder is a bucket placed on a stand, surrounded by an isolation layer called Jacket. On top of the cylinder is a cover with pressure gauge, safety valve, release valve and nuts that tighten the cover.

Figure: An illustration showing different parts of an autoclave.

2. UV Chamber

Microbiology labs are prone to contamination due to the presence of microorganisms, which can negatively impact the accuracy of research results. Since using short-wave UV light is a viable approach for disinfecting surface microorganisms, UV chambers are primarily utilized in microbiological labs for targeted UV irradiation to sterilize research tools, containers, and other related items, successfully removing as much as 99% of surface contamination and preventing cross-contamination between different samples and experiments.

Apart from sterilizing research tools, UV chambers are also used to disinfect lab coats, gloves, and other protective equipment. This helps prevent the spread of harmful microorganisms and maintains a clean and safe working environment. UV chambers are also an essential tool in the disinfection of nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA.

To educate your students about how UV acts on DNA, you can use the Electromagnetic Spectrum (Principles) simulation from Labster where students can interact with different objects and see the effect of UV in a virtual game.
Untitled design 2022 04 19T165716.536 510x510 - Benchmark Scientific UV Clave™ Ultraviolet Chamber for Research Use Only (B1450)

Figure: A UV chamber by GMI. Image Source: GMI

3. Laminar Flow Hood & Biosafety Cabinet

Laminar flow hoods and biosafety cabinets are critical equipment used in microbiology labs for a variety of purposes. They provide a sterile and protected environment for working with hazardous materials, prevent contamination, and protect lab personnel. With the increasing need for accurate and safe research practices, the use of these instruments has become an integral part of modern microbiology labs. 

  • Laminar flow hoods are used to create a clean working environment for sensitive work in microbiology lab experiments. They operate by providing a constant flow of HEPA-filtered air that creates a positive-pressure environment. This prevents airborne contaminants from entering the work area, making it an ideal environment for sensitive procedures such as cell culture or tissue culture.
  • Biosafety cabinets, on the other hand, provide an enclosed and highly protected workspace for working with hazardous materials. They offer a high degree of containment, preventing the spread of microorganisms and other pathogens. They are typically classified based on their level of containment, with level 1 being the lowest and level 4 being the highest. In microbiology labs, biosafety cabinets are often used for procedures involving highly infectious or pathogenic agents, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These cabinets are designed to protect lab personnel and the surrounding environment from potential exposure to these dangerous agents.
To explain the importance of both these instruments, educators can assign students to do an immersive Biosafety virtual lab experience where they can work around a biosafety cabinet.
Preview of BSY 4 simulation.

Figure: A screen capture of microbiology lab handling in a Biosafety cabinet from Labster’s Biosafety simulation.  

4. Incubator

Incubators are commonly used in microbiology labs to maintain optimal conditions for the growth and reproduction of microorganisms. They provide a controlled environment for experiments by regulating temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. Incubators are essential for various microbiology techniques, such as bacterial and yeast cultures, because they help ensure consistent and reproducible results. They are also used in the testing of antimicrobial agents and in the production of vaccines and other biologics. The versatility and reliability of incubators make them a fundamental piece of equipment in the microbiology laboratory. Thermo Fisher Scientific provides a range of incubators for different laboratory needs, including standard, refrigerated, heat-only, etc.

Large-Capacity Reach-In CO 2 Incubator, 821 L, Polished Stainless Steel

Figure: Large capacity incubator for incubation of microbial colonies growing on petri dishes. Image Credit: Thermo Fisher Scientific

5. Deep Refrigerators

Deep refrigerators are important instruments in high-end microbiology labs as they are specifically used for the storage and preservation of microorganisms at low temperatures. They are used for maintaining temperatures as low as -80°C (-112°F), ensuring the longevity of microorganisms. The ability to store microorganisms in deep refrigerators ensures that they remain viable for future use, which is critical for the reproducibility and accuracy of experimental results. 

Deep refrigerators are essential in the preservation of valuable and rare microorganisms, which can be used for research and development of new treatments and technologies. Without the use of deep refrigerators, the viability and integrity of microorganisms can be compromised, resulting in inaccurate or unreliable experimental results.

Deep Freezers for Medical Laboratories

Figure: Deep refrigerators and freezers are essential for ensuring the longevity of microorganisms. Image Source: Presto Group

6. Centrifuge

The importance of a centrifuge in the day-to-day handling of microbiology experiments can’t be overemphasized. Centrifugation separates different components of a mixture based on their density. Centrifugation is also used for the separation of subcellular components, such as organelles from cells. 

Instructors can explain to students how a centrifuge allows researchers to examine the function and structure of various cellular components, resulting in valuable insights into the internal workings of microorganisms. 

Microbiologists commonly use centrifugation for the isolation and purification of cells, proteins, and nucleic acids from microbial cultures. One of the most frequent applications of centrifugation in microbiology labs is the isolation of cells from liquid cultures. This enables researchers to collect cells for further analysis, including DNA and protein extraction, which is critical for the characterization of microbial growth and behavior. 

Option to seal the ELISA plate using a microplate seal in a virtual lab.

In Labster's virtual lab, ELISA, students will join scientists using this groundbreaking technique for detecting and quantifying substances, such as proteins. They’ll also help Dr. Lisa quantify Factor IX protein, which is used for hemophilia drugs. They use a centrifuge!

7. Microscope

Microscopes are indispensable instruments in microbiology labs as they enable researchers to visualize and study microorganisms at various levels of resolution. Microscopy is a critical technique in microbiology labs as it provides essential information about the morphology, structure, and behavior of microorganisms. Labster’s informative microscopy simulation is a great way to explain, demonstrate, and involve new learners in microscopy. 

Light microscopes are the most commonly used microscopes in microbiology labs because they are capable of magnifying microorganisms up to 1,000 times. They are useful for observing live microorganisms and examining stained samples, making them a versatile tool in microbiology research. Labster’s light microscopy simulation is ideal for exposing learners to the instrument and demonstrating how and why it’s used to magnify an image up to 1,000 times. 

Fluorescence microscopes are also commonly used in microbiology labs because they enable researchers to study the behavior and interactions of microorganisms in real time. Scientists use fluorescent dyes to label specific structures or molecules within a cell, making them a powerful tool for studying microbial physiology and behavior. In Labster’s fluorescence microscopy virtual lab, students learn how the instrument works and study the localization of a virus in intestinal tissue. 

You can also use Labster’s confocal microscopy simulation to take your students’ knowledge of microscopy to the next level and even create a stack of confocal images to create a 3D rendering.   
Preview of FLM 3 simulation.

Figure: A screen capture from Labster’s Fluorescence microscopy simulation.  

Conclusion and additional resources

Autoclaves, UV chambers, laminar flow hoods, biosafety cabinets, incubators, deep refrigerators, centrifuges, and microscopes are all essential pieces of microbiology lab equipment. Due to funding and space constraints, not all microbiology labs are fully-equipped, but Labster virtual labs can fill in the gaps and give all learners exposure and a conceptual understanding of as many lab instruments as possible. Microbiology educators can also offer their students easy access to related immersive learning content from Labster’s Microbiology Simulation Course Package.

Questions for reflection:

  • Which microbiology lab tool will be new to your students this term?
  • Which microbiology lab tool will you add in the years to come to upgrade your students’ lab skills?
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