Why and How Do You Incubate Biological Samples?

When you’re working with live-cell cultures or bacterial colonies, you need to pay close attention to the temperatures at which you are storing your samples.

Temperature can seriously affect the quality and integrity of your samples when you’re working with organic materials and bacteria.  As a biology lab assistant or biomedical scientist, it’s important that you know the specific temperatures to store each sample that you’re working on in the laboratory.

In this article, we’re going to cover the why and how of biological sample incubation.  You will learn about why samples must be stored at specific temperatures and how you can achieve these temperatures when working in the lab.

Why Do Biological Samples Need to Be Stored in an Incubator?

Biological samples contain proteins that are very sensitive to temperature.  When proteins are exposed to temperatures that are too high or low, it causes them to unfold (something known as denaturing).

Microbes, cells, and algal blooms grow best within a specific temperature range.  Depending on the type of material you’re analyzing, you will need to set the incubator to the correct temperature (or multiple incubators if you’re using several different samples at once).

Incubating your plates in aerobic conditions and below the average human body temperature can lower the risk of microbial contamination.  This is essential when you’re working with any kind of sample to ensure your results are accurate and free of errors.

You might also need to store your samples in an incubator when you’re working with temperature-sensitive mutants in your research.  Temperature-sensitive mutants can be ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off’ by adjusting the environmental temperature.  The same applies to temperature-sensitive proteins.

How Do You Incubate Biological Samples?

Most biology labs have several incubators, so they can store multiple samples at different temperatures simultaneously.

Using an incubator is fairly straightforward.  Most of them have a few simple buttons that enable you to choose the incubation temperature, and there are different kinds of incubators that are appropriate for different uses.

For example, a PHCBI incubator comes in a variety of forms, including multi-gas, CO2, heated, and cooled.  Your biology lab may have one of every option, so it’s important to learn which is best for each type of biological sample.

Once you have incubated your plates, you should always tape the lids down.  This prevents your samples from being ruined if the plates are dropped or knocked.  You can also write the details of the sample on the tape so the biological lab staff can distinguish between them.

As a lab assistant or biomedical scientist, you will need to determine what type of organisms you are working with so you can set the incubator at the correct temperature.

Organisms that grow best at human body temperature (37 degrees Celsius) are called mesophiles.  Thermophiles grow best between 40 and 70 degrees Celsius, and hyperthermophiles like very high temperatures that are above 80 degrees Celsius.