Measuring the mechanical properties of single microbial cells.

Colin Thomas, JD Stenson, Zhibing Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Many cells are considered to be susceptible to mechanical forces or "shear" in bioprocessing, leading to undesirable cell breakage or adverse metabolic effects. However, cell breakage is the aim of some processing operations, in particular high-pressure homogenisation and other cell disruption methods. In either case, the exact mechanisms of damage or disruption are obscure. One reason for this is that the mechanical properties of the cells are generally unknown, which makes investigation or prediction of the damage difficult. There are several methods for measuring the mechanical properties of single microbial cells, and these are reviewed briefly. In the context of bioprocessing research, a powerful method of characterising the mechanical properties of single cells is compression testing using micromanipulation, supplemented by mathematical modelling of the cell behaviour in compression. The method and associated modelling are described, with results mainly from studies on yeast cells. Continuing difficulties in making a priori predictions of cell breakage in processing are identified. In future, compression testing by micromanipulation might also be used in conjunction with other single cell analytical techniques to study mechanisms controlling form, growth and division of cells and their consequential mechanical behaviour. It ought to be possible to relate cell wall mechanics to cell wall composition and structure, and eventually to underlying gene expression, allowing much greater understanding and control of the cell mechanical properties.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
JournalAdvances in biochemical engineering/biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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