Incubator Meaning, Types, Uses And Function In Microbiology

what is incubator

Sometimes to support the growth of living beings or to produce something important an environment is created which is warm and safe with controlled temperature and humidity. This environment is created with the help of an Incubator.

An incubator is used in fields such as biology, agriculture, and healthcare which controls temperature, humidity, etc. to create a perfect space for the specific needs of the organisms that are incubated.

In this article we will learn what is incubator, its parts, working principle, its types, and incubator uses. Let’s begin.

What Is Incubator

An incubator definition can be said as – an insulated area or system designed to create a controlled environment, regulating factors like temperature, humidity, and other conditions, to help optimal growth, hatching, or reproduction of living organisms.

Incubation is done in a machine known as the incubator machine. It is used for many things such as the development of embryos, hatching eggs, cultivating microorganisms, or germinating seeds.

Incubator Diagram

Incubator Diagram
Incubator Diagram

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Parts Of Incubator

An incubator has different parts or components which work together to help in incubation. These parts are –

Chamber or Cabinet

  • The chamber is the main body of the incubator machine, made with insulated materials to maintain a stable internal environment. It is a double-walled, cuboidal box with a 20–800L capacity.
  • Glass wool is used in the space created between the two walls to insulate the incubator.
  • The insulation keeps the equipment working smoothly by reducing heat loss and saving electric consumption.
  • Aluminum is used for the interior wall and stainless steel sheets for the exterior wall.
  • The cabinets inside the incubator are supported by inward extensions on the inside wall of the incubator.


  • The thermostat is a temperature-regulating device which maintains a constant temperature within the incubator.
  • It monitors the current temperature and activates or deactivates the heating element to keep a constant and preset temperature in the incubator machine.

Humidity Control System

  • For an egg incubator which is an incubator for eggs or for cell culture, a humidity control system helps maintain the appropriate level of moisture.
  • This involves water trays, humidity sensors, and control mechanisms.
  • The water is being evaporated to maintain the humidity in the chamber of an incubator machine.


  • A door is a hinged or sliding access point to the incubator chamber.
  • It allows users to introduce or remove materials without disturbing the internal environment of the incubator machine.
  • The door has its own insulation and a window that allows one to see inside while it is incubating without affecting the environment inside.

Perforated Shelves

  • These are the shelves with small holes or perforations.
  • They help in proper air circulation and distribution of heat in the incubator machine, maintaining a uniform condition.
  • Some perforated shelves are attached to the inner wall of the incubator on which culture media are placed.
  • Some shelves are also detachable so that they can be cleaned from time to time.

Control Panel

  • A control panel has buttons, displays, and controls for users to set and monitor the condition. It helps the users to regulate and observe conditions such as temperature and humidity inside an incubator machine.

Gas Control System

  • These are the systems for controlling the gas composition.
  • It helps in optimal conditions for specific applications, such as cell culture or biological experiments, by checking the concentration of gases.
  • In the CO2 Incubator, a water reservoir is located under the chamber of the incubator.
  • Similarly, gas chambers are present to provide with the CO2 gas in the incubator machine.

Viewing Window

  • A transparent panel or window that allows users to observe the contents of the incubator without opening it, reducing disturbance to the internal environment.

Asbestos Door Gasket

  • A covering made of asbestos material is often used to create a seal around the door, preventing the leakage of heat and maintaining insulation.

HEPA Filters

  • High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters are present in an incubator that help maintain a clean and sterile environment by capturing and filtering out particles, dust, and microorganisms.
  • An air pump with these filters is used to create a closed-loop system to reduce contamination from the air flowing inside the incubator machine.

Egg Trays or Shelves

  • In an egg incubator, trays or shelves provide a secure and organized space for placing eggs during the incubation process.

L-shaped Thermometer

  • It is a thermometer designed in an L-shape for reading in the incubator, providing information about the internal temperature.
  • It is placed on the top part of the outside wall of the incubator.
  • For easy reading the other end of the thermometer with the degree values is kept outside the incubator.
  • The part that has the mercury bulb next to it sticks out a little bit into the incubator machine’s chamber.

Sterilization System

  • In certain applications, such as in medical or laboratory incubators, a sterilization system is included to maintain aseptic, clean conditions.
  • Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light is commonly used in these systems for its germicidal properties.
  • The interior surfaces of some advanced incubator machines are designed to reflect these UV-C light.

Ventilation System

  • For proper air circulation, incubators often have a ventilation system that helps distribute heat, regulate gas exchange, and prevent the increased concentration of carbon dioxide.

Principle Of Incubator

The principle of incubator is based on creating and maintaining a controlled environment to facilitate the growth, development, or reproduction of living organisms and other microorganisms.

An incubator principle revolves around how cells multiply and divide to create new cells when they are given the ideal conditions of temperature, humidity, oxygen, and carbon dioxide availability.

The working principle of incubator can vary depending on their different applications. But below are some basic principles of how an incubator machine works –

  • The thermostat contains a temperature sensor, commonly a bimetallic strip or a thermocouple, which keeps a constant temperature in the Incubator.
  • If the temperature is too low, the signal activates the heating element. If it’s too high, the signal activates a cooling system.
  • The cabinet’s wall insulation provides an isolated environment that is suitable for the growth of the microbes.
  • The incubator machine is designed with materials that have good thermal mass properties and can absorb and retain heat efficiently, helping to keep a stable temperature.
  • The humidity control system regulates the moisture level in the air. This system involves a water reservoir to control humidity as needed.
  • Proper ventilation is important for the health and development of the organisms. That’s why the ventilation system maintains a continuous supply of fresh air and the removal of excess CO2.
  • In the case of an egg incubator, it includes a turning mechanism where the eggs are gently rotated at regular intervals, mimicking the behavior of parent birds and preventing the attachment of embryos to the eggshell.
  • The sensors provide feedback to the control system, for making adjustments as needed to maintain the conditions of an incubator machine.
  • Safety features, such as over-temperature protection and alarm systems prevent extreme conditions that could harm the developing organisms.

Types Of Incubator

There are different types of incubator for different purposes like egg incubator, Bod incubator, Puppy incubator, etc. Let’s look at these different types of incubator one by one –

Bod Incubator

Bod incubator full form is Biological Oxygen Demand Incubator. It is a special type of incubator machine used to check the biological oxygen demand in water samples. Bod incubator is designed for environmental and microbiological testing.

A Bod incubator is designed to maintain a constant temperature, usually around 20°C to 25°C, which is good for the growth of microorganisms found in water.

Some of the Bod incubator uses are –

  • Water Quality Analysis – Environmental laboratories use Bod incubator to perform tests on water samples collected from natural bodies of water, wastewater treatment plants, and industrial discharges.
  • Wastewater Treatment Plants – Wastewater treatment facilities use a Bod incubator to monitor the efficiency of their treatment processes.
  • Environmental Monitoring – Another Bod incubator use is environmental monitoring. Regular testing helps identify where the pollution is coming from and then take necessary actions.
  • Compliance Testing – They are essential for compliance testing to make sure that water quality standards and regulations are met.

Bod Incubator Diagram

Bod Incubator Diagram
Bod Incubator Diagram

Benchtop Incubator

This is the most common type of incubator machine used mostly in laboratories. A Benchtop incubator is commonly used for a variety of applications, including cell culture, microbiology experiments, and other research activities.

The interior design of a benchtop incubator is made for uniform distribution of temperature in the incubation chamber, providing consistent conditions for samples with proper insulation.

CO2 Incubator

A CO2 incubator is a specialized laboratory incubator machine designed to provide controlled environmental conditions for the growth and maintenance of cell cultures, particularly mammalian cells.

They are used in cell biology, microbiology, and tissue culture applications where maintaining accurate and stable conditions is crucial for the success of experiments and cell studies.

A CO2 incubator has a system to control and maintain the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the chamber. The CO2 concentration for mammalian cell culture is around 5%.

A CO2 incubator machine also has a humidity control system to prevent cell culture media from drying out.

Shaker Incubator

A shaker incubator is a laboratory device that combines the features of an incubator machine with a shaking mechanism. It is commonly used in microbiology, cell culture, and molecular biology applications where shaking or mixing of samples is required while maintaining environmental conditions.

A Shaker incubator comes with a digital control panel where users can set and monitor the temperature, shaking speed, and other parameters. It allows users to control the speed and intensity of the shaking motion.

Its benefit is that it transfers heat to the culture container quickly and uniformly, and its movement increases air circulation, which speeds up the growth.

A Shaker incubator is used in cell culture, microbial cultivation, enzyme reactions, bioprocessing and fermentation, etc.

Infant Incubator

An infant incubator is a medical device designed to provide a controlled and protective environment for newborn babies, especially those born prematurely or with health problems.

These incubators have a precise temperature control system to maintain a constant and regulated temperature within the enclosed environment for an incubator baby.

An infant incubator also has humidity control systems to prevent dehydration of the baby’s delicate skin and respiratory mucosa.

Many infant incubators include a radiant warmer to provide additional warmth to the incubator baby.

Transparent panels or observation windows are attached to the infant incubator, allowing doctors to monitor the incubator baby without disturbing the environment.

Egg Incubator

An egg incubator is an incubator for eggs. It is a device designed to create and maintain the optimal conditions necessary for the artificial incubation of eggs.

The incubator for eggs are commonly used in agriculture and poultry farming to hatch bird eggs, such as chickens, ducks, quails, etc. A specially designed incubator for chicken eggs only is known as a chicken incubator.

An egg incubator has a precise temperature control system to maintain a constant and stable temperature, according to the type of eggs that are incubated.

A turning mechanism is often included in the incubator for eggs to mimic the natural behavior of parent birds turning their eggs.

Followed by a ventilation system in the egg incubator, it ensures a continuous supply of fresh air and the removal of excess carbon dioxide produced by developing embryos.

An egg incubator also come with trays or racks designed to hold the eggs in a position that allows for optimal airflow and turning.

Nowadays, the incubator for eggs comes with a digital control panel to set and monitor the temperature, humidity, and turning frequency.

Bacteriological Incubator

A bacteriological incubator is a laboratory incubator machine designed to provide a controlled environment for the incubation and growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.

These incubators have a precise temperature control system. The typical temperature range is between 20°C and 45°C, depending on the specific requirements of the microorganisms being cultured.

A Bacteriological incubator has shelves or racks to hold culture plates, tubes, or other containers. These incubators are used in various microbiological testing procedures, including microbial identification, antibiotic susceptibility testing, and other diagnostic assays.

Microbiologists and researchers use bacteriological incubator for experimental work, studying the behavior, growth patterns, and characteristics of bacteria.

Puppy Incubator

A puppy incubator, also known as a neonatal puppy incubator is a specialized incubator machine designed to provide a controlled and supportive environment for newborn puppies, especially those who are premature, weak, or require special care.

A puppy incubator is essential in veterinary medicine for improving the survival chances of neonatal puppies during the critical early stages of their lives.

A specialized puppy incubator with oxygen maintains the well-being of newborn puppies with respiratory problems.

Cooled Incubator

A cooled incubator, also known as a refrigerated incubator, provides controlled environmental conditions for the incubation of samples at temperatures below or near room temperature.

These incubators have a cooling system that allows users to set and control temperatures within a specific range.

A cooled incubator machine is crucial for experiments and applications that require temperatures below ambient levels.

A Cooled incubator machine is used in many areas e.g. cell culture experiments at temperatures lower than room temperature, storage of temperature-sensitive samples, experiments involving enzymatic reactions, DNA sequencing that require low temperature.

Portable Incubator

A portable incubator is a small, compact, and transportable incubator machine which can be carried easily from one place to another. They are designed to be compact and lightweight to use in fieldwork or remote locations like field research, agricultural testing, etc.

A portable incubator machine comes with multiple charging options, including running on batteries or getting charged by solar power.

Incubator In Microbiology

An incubator in microbiology is a crucial laboratory equipment designed to provide a controlled environment for the cultivation and growth of microorganisms. Microbiological incubators are essential tools in microbiology laboratories, providing the controlled environment needed for the growth and study of microorganisms.

Let’s see what are some incubator uses in laboratory –

Bacterial Culture

Incubators provide optimal conditions for the growth of bacterial cultures. Researchers can control temperature, humidity, and oxygen levels to support the multiplication of specific bacterial kinds.

Yeast Cultures

Microbiologists use incubator machine to grow yeast cultures for various applications, including studies in molecular biology, biotechnology, and fermentation processes.

Molecular Biology Experiments

Another use of incubator in microbiology is in molecular biology experiments, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA/RNA hybridization.

Enzyme Reactions

An incubator in microbiology is used in experiments involving enzymatic reactions, where specific temperature conditions are required for optimal enzyme activity.

Microbial Genetics

Other incubator uses is in microbial genetics studies for the cultivation and manipulation of genetically modified microorganisms.

Virology Studies

One of the many incubator uses in laboratory can be seen in Virology studies as well. The cultivation of viruses and the study of their characteristics and behavior.

Microbial Physiology Studies

Incubator machine also helps in studies on the physiological characteristics of microorganisms, including their growth patterns, metabolic activities, and responses to different environmental factors.

So we have seen some incubator uses in laboratory, some more incubator uses we can see are infectious disease research, to check quality control in industries, anaerobic culture, etc.

Incubator Price

The incubator machine price can vary significantly based on factors such as the type of incubator, its capacity, features, and the brand. Benchtop incubators can range from ₹15,000 to ₹1,00,000 depending on its features and brand.

A basic CO2 incubator costs around ₹1,00,000 to ₹5,00,000 whereas an advanced CO2 incubator with additional features might cost ₹5,00,000 and above

Whereas, egg incubator price for home use can be from ₹3,000 to ₹15,000. Bod incubators range from ₹50,000 to ₹5,00,000 or more.


An incubator is a versatile and essential tool used in various fields, including biology, microbiology, agriculture, and research. We have seen many incubator uses around us such as incubator for chicken eggs to Bod Incubator and so on. As technology advances, an incubator machine continues to evolve, with features such as digital controls, precise temperature regulation, and specialized functions to address specific needs in different fields.

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