Electrophoresis separates the biomolecules like proteins, nucleic acids, amino acids etc. according to their size, shape, chemical charge etc. under the control of the electric field.

Under the influence of the electric field, a positively charged molecule (Anion) will move towards the negatively charged electrode i.e. Cation. The negatively charged molecule (Cation) moves towards the positively charged electrode i.e. Anion.

Movement of positively charged ion towards negatively charged electrode refers to “Cataphoresis”. And, the movement of negatively charged ion towards the positively charged electrode refers to “Anaphoresis”.

Content: Electrophoresis

  1. History
  2. Definition
  3. Working
  4. Factors Affecting
  5. Principle and Mathematics
  6. Types


Several discoveries have been made to explain the theory of electrophoresis, which are explained below:

Year Discovery in the electrophoresis technique
1807Movement of clay particles were first observed by the scientist Ferdinand Frederic Reuss who gave the theory of electrophoresis.
1934-1937Then apparatus was developed known as Tiseleus apparatus named after the scientist Tiseleus for the analysis of colloidal mixtures.
1940-50Zone electrophoresis techniques were then introduced, where filter paper, capillary tubes were used as carrier matrix for the movement of molecules.
1955In this year, Oliver Smithies introduced agarose gel and polyacrylamide gels as a substrate for the separation of biomolecules.
1960'sA.L. Shapiro, J.V. Maizel developed relationship between the molecular weight and migration of proteins.
1975Farrell and J.Klore developed 2-D electrophoresis.
1981Electrophoresis of amino acid was carried out by the two scientist J.W. Jorgensen and K.D. Lukas
1990Matrix developed for the DNA separation at high resolution by the B.L. Karger and his group.
2000- nowMany high resolution electrophoresis methods have developed for both analytical and preparative measures.

Definition of Electrophoresis

Electrophoresis is a mechanical process that uses for both analytical and preparative measures which use many substrates or matrices like agarose, cellulose acetate, polyacrylamide. It uses for the analysis and separation of biomolecules like amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids, nucleotides.

On the basis of the net charge, molecular size, shape and binding affinity of the molecules, they are separated under the force of electric field forming different bands.


The working principle of electrophoresis is that it causes the separation of the molecules, ions or colloidal particles that suspends in the matrix under the force of an electric field.

The electric field allows the migration of the positively charged molecule towards the anode and the migration of negatively charged molecule towards the cathode. Therefore, electrophoresis is the electrokinetic phenomenon where the motion of molecules occurs under an electric field.
Electrophoresis diagram

Factors Affecting

There are many factors that influence the process of electrophoresis like molecular charge, size, a shape of the biomolecule, the binding affinity of biomolecule etc.

factors affecting electrophoresis

Principle and Mathematics

It depends upon the Coulomb’s law, which is simply the experience of force by the particles or ions under an electric field for electrophoretic mobility. For the electrophoretic mobility, there are two forces that take part in the electrophoretic mobility are Electric force and drag force. Electric force and drag force are the two types of forces which are responsible for the mobility of ions.

As electric field defines as force per unit charge, so it can be expressed as:

E = Fe/q

Where F= Force experienced by ion.

And, q= Charge

Fe = E X q    ………… equation 1

This kind of force i.e. Fe  is due to an electric field.

Fd = f X V    ………… equation 2

This kind of force i.e. Fd is due to Friction.

Fe and Fd must be zero for electrophoretic mobility. By combining both the equations 1 and 2, the equation will form:

q X E = f XV

q/f = V/E = µ

Where µ is the Electrophoretic mobility

V = q X E/ f

Where V is the Velocity or movement of ions in electrophoresis

Types of Electrophoresis

  1. Paper electrophoresis
  2. Cellulose acetate electrophoresis
  3. Capillary electrophoresis
  4. Gel electrophoresis

Paper Electrophoresis

Paper electrophoresis makes the use of Chromatography paper which has a different adsorption capacity of different molecules. To perform this kind of electrophoresis, there are several steps involve:

  • First, the filter paper moistens with the buffer solution.
  • After this, immerse both the ends of filter paper in a buffer solution.
  • Then sample place at the centre, after which the electric field is applied, that allows migration of molecules to their respective poles depending upon their charge.

paper electrophoresis

Application: Paper electrophoresis is used for the analysis of proteins like casein, serum, albumin, myosin etc.

Cellulose Acetate Electrophoresis

This kind of electrophoresis was developed by Kohn in 1958. Biological acetate membrane filter used in this instead of normal chromatography paper. Cellulose acetate electrophoresis is more or less very similar to the paper electrophoresis. It involves the following steps:

  • First, the cellulose acetate filter paper moistens with the buffer solution.
  • After this, immerse both the ends of cellulose acetate filter paper in a buffer solution.
  • Then sample place at the one end, after which the electric field is applied, that allows migration of molecules to their respective poles depending upon their charge.

cellulose acetate electrophoresis

Application: It is used in the separation of proteins like glycoprotein, haemoglobin and lipid-protein molecule i.e. Lipoprotein.

Capillary Electrophoresis

This type of electrophoresis makes the use of a capillary tube or narrow bore tube. There are following steps involve:

  • First, ends of capillary immerse into inlet and outlet vials.
  • Fill the Inlet and outlet vials with an electrolytic solution.
  • Connect the electrode to the high power supply up to 5-30 kV.
  • And the sample then injects through the hollow capillary tube by the electrokinetic energy.
  • Under the influence of the electric field, different zones of analyte or sample form which migrates towards the outlet side.
  • These bands are then detected directly by a capillary wall.

capillary electrophoresis

Application: Capillary electrophoresis is used for the analysis of food, pharmaceutical product, environmental pollutants.

Gel Electrophoresis

It makes the use of gel as a support matrix. Most popular and commonly used method. Used for both analytical and preparative processes. It is the most common method to carry out the process of electrophoresis.

Principle: In this porous gel matrix is used which consist of the cross-linked polymer network. Through this network, molecules of different size, charge and shape pass through. This relies upon the fact that negatively charged molecule will attract towards the positive end and vice versa. After the migration, bands will appear on the gel matrix at different levels those which lag behind will be the heavy molecules and those which moves faster are lighter molecules through the pores of the gel matrix.

Types: Gel electrophoresis is of two types:

  • Horizontal (Agarose gel electrophoresis)
  • Vertical (SDS-PAGE)

Agarose Gel Electrophoresis

To carry out this kind of electrophoresis, following steps involve:

  • First, take agarose into the water to make the slurry or to dissolve the agarose.
  • Cool the agarose solution, and then transfer it to the casting tray containing comb.
  • Add electrophoresis buffer (Tris-acetate EDTA buffer) to cover the gel up to 1mm.
  • Then, take the DNA sample.
  • Add the desired amount of 6X gel loading buffer.
  • After that, take out the comb and slowly load the sample mixture containing tracking dye (Bromophenol blue) into the wells through the micropipette.
  • Close the lid of the gel tank, and turn on the power supply so that DNA can migrate towards the positive electrode.
  • Run the gel, until the bromophenol blue migrates on an appropriate distance through a gel.
  • At last, remove the gel tray and place is in a UV transilluminator, to see the orange-red coloured DNA bands.
    agarose gel electrophoresis


Application: Agarose gel electrophoresis is used for the isolation of nucleic acid especially DNA.


It stands for Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate- Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis and includes the following steps:

  • First, add the resolving gel between the two glass plates of the casting frame.
  • Then, place a comb on the glass plates leaving 1cm space.
  • Add isopropanol on the top of the gel.
  • After solidification of resolving gel, remove the isopropanol using filter paper.
  • Load the stacking gel on the top of the glass plates.
  • Then, place a comb and solidify the stacking gel for desired time.
  • After solidification of stacking gel, remove the comb that forms a well.
  • Place a ladder into the extreme right and place the protein sample with a tracking dye (Bromophenol blue) into the other wells, by using a micropipette.
  • Then turn on the voltage supply, so that tracking dye can cross the gel by forming different bands.
  • After the completion of electrophoresis, take out the gel and rinse it with deionized water 4-5 times to remove SDS and buffer.
  • Then, dip the gel in the Coomassie blue stain which is a staining buffer, stains the invisible protein bands after a few hours.

sds page electrophoresis

Application: SDS-PAGE is widely used for the isolation or separation of protein.

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