What’s in your autoclave?
What do a pine tree, a bottle of beer, and a cannabis-based product have in common?
Answer: They all have used Tomy autoclaves in their development.
That’s right. Our autoclaves are used for a lot more than Erlenmeyer flasks and Petri dishes.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the common—and not-so-common—uses for steam sterilization, a.k.a. autoclaving. Here at Tomy, we’re proud that so many different organizations utilize our products. So we thought we’d give you a little “tour.”
The usual suspects
First, a little Autoclave 101. The autoclave combines four factors—heat, steam, pressure, and time—to sterilize what’s placed inside it. It’s the ideal solution for lots of media and is usually far more practical than options such as incineration.
Laboratories live by autoclaves. Specifically, we’re talking about laboratories where anything, particularly anything microscopic, can grow. This means biochemical and biological research laboratories, as well as pharmaceutical research labs, and lots and lots of government and university labs. They’re all Tomy customers.
So what are they autoclaving?
Broadly, they’ll need to clean up used glass media, liquid media, and instruments. So this means lots of glassware (that is, Pyrex/borosilicate glass, as opposed to household glass, which shouldn’t be used), including flasks, beakers, and glass Petri dishes.
Then there’s the culture media, biological cultures, and stocks. We can’t tell you how many contaminated solid items—such as pipette tips, gloves, and plastic Petri dishes—get autoclaved each day. “Contaminated” is the important word here since the autoclave can handle bacteria, viruses, and fungi with equal aplomb.
One of the nice things about using glass for containing your culture media is that you can autoclave both of them together at the same time. Simply leave the culture in the glassware, and place it in the autoclave, like a single item.
Other materials that are autoclave-friendly include, naturally, stainless steel and the proper plastics: polypropylene and polycarbonate.
By the way, all of those flasks we’d mentioned have two things in common: 1) they’re round, and 2) they’re vertical. While that may seem pretty obvious, it’s something to keep in mind when shopping for an autoclave, because if it’s 1) rectangular or 2) horizontal, you’re going to regret that purchase every time you have a batch of flasks to sterilize.
There are, of course, items that you should never autoclave. These include:
- Anything that’s flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic (including bleach), or radioactive. You don’t want to expose that to high heat and steam.
- Paraffin-embedded tissue.
- Any liquid in a sealed container. To play it safe, you can fill a container about two-thirds full, and autoclave it with its cap loosened.
The intriguing outliers
At Tomy, we’re delighted to include among our clients’ organizations that are at the creative cutting edge of product development—and rely on our autoclaves to help them along. Specifically:
- One client sure can see the forest for the trees. That’s because they’re creating pine trees in the laboratory, for later transplanting in the desert, where it would be nearly impossible to get them to germinate from scratch. And so every used petri dish, and its depleted agar, go into the autoclave after the microscopic “crop” is “harvested.” (By the way, that’s not “autoclave,” but rather “autoclaves,” plural. This one lab uses seven in order to keep production flowing smoothly.)
- Product development is brewing for another Tomy autoclave client; they make beer. Actually, lots of startup breweries and microbreweries rely on our autoclaves for product development, for everything from lagers to IPAs. Beer, like bread, relies on yeast for a significant portion of its flavor profile. So, you need to cultivate that yeast and experiment with different stocks and strains, until you get it just right for that new product you’re developing. And whereas lots of the bio labs are using culture dishes to run their experiments, our friends in the bottled-beverage world have a firm reliance on bioreactors, those complex containers used to cultivate yeasts. We mention these because they’re the ultimate perfect fit for our SX series of autoclaves: tall and cylindrical.
- The cannabis industry is growing fast, and since cannabinoids are plant-based ingredients—whose applications span everything from beverages to skincare—it requires a lot of lab work, with sterilization after every development batch. Thus these cannabis companies have become a fast-growing sector of Tomy autoclave customers.
This list is hardly exhaustive. We see autoclaves used in veterinary settings. We’ve even read about their use in creating pre-impregnated carbon-fiber components!
Do you have a surprising or unusual usage for your autoclave? Write us and let us know; we may feature you in a future blog!