An electroporator (left) and gene-gun(right)

What are the pros and cons of using electroporators (left) and gene guns (right) for transformation in terms of:

  • Price
  • Target organism
  • Efficacy
  • Ease of use
  • Maintenance

I am not an expert on gene guns but I will try to give my answer on this question anyway.

Price-wise they are both relatively cheap. The electroporators consumables are only the cuvettes, they cost 5-10 dollar/each. The gene guns use microbeads as bullets and depending on the material they cost between 200 and 300 dollars per microgram, 10-50 dollars per shot, a bit more expensive than electroporation.

About the organisms, guns are used mostly for plant-cells and few other "hard to electroporate" organisms. I don'd have a proper list of them but roughly, if you work with bacteria, yeasts and mammalian cells, then go for an electroporator. If you need to work with tissues or entire organisms like worm/insects/plants then go for a gun, you definitely cannot electroporate a leaf. But in general, check the literature on what is currently the best method to transfect your system of choice.

Efficacy, also in this case it depends form the cells you are working with. Electroporation reach 10^9/10^10 transform ants per microgram of DNA in case of E.coli and this is the best efficiency you can get nowadays. All other cells will be transfected at lower efficiency, how much lower? It depends from the cells!

Easy of use. They are both very easy to use, it is matter of pressing a button. For the electroporation you need to prepare electrocompetent cells, but the procedure is very easy. For the gene guns you need to coat the beads with DNA, also very easy.

Maintenance. The electroporator do not need any maintenance at all while the gun may need some care in the long run since it has pumps and pressurised chambers, this stuff usually need some attention but nothing special.

Some references:




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  • $\begingroup$ Would you have any references to add to support your claims? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 18 '15 at 11:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I bet instruction manuals from bio-rad should be ok as reference. Here they are: bio-rad.com/LifeScience/pdf/Bulletin_9541.pdf ; bio-rad.com/webroot/web/pdf/lsr/literature/4006174B.pdf ; bio-rad.com/webroot/web/pdf/lsr/literature/4006217A.pdf $\endgroup$ – alec_djinn Nov 18 '15 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ Great. Please add them to your answer. +1 $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 18 '15 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ We use both devices routinely in our lab and I have to say that I prefer electroporation over biolistic any day. The former is cheaper and faster as the only consumable is the cuvet while you have stopping screens, macrocarriers, rupture disks and helium as consumables while electroporators only need cuvettes. Cell preparation times are usually faster for electroporation as well. That being said, you often don't have a choice... $\endgroup$ – mimat Nov 22 '15 at 16:00


Looking through Google shopping and visiting s few websites, it seems that electroporation is 3000 - 8000 dollars depending on what features you want.On the other hand, gene guns are much more expensive. The most common gene gun, the Helios model from Bio-Rad, is about $17000, including all the necessary parts. As you can see, a gene gun can be more expensive.

Also, the gene gun needs bullets, which are microbeads (or microcarriers, as Bio-Rad calls them), and those cost around 600 dollars. The electroporation cuvettes each are $90. However, they can be cleaned and reused.

Target organism

According to Wikipedia, gene guns are used for mainly for transforming plant tissues, but is also used for animal tissues. According to Bio-Rad, it is good for mainly plant systems and animal systems, but can be used for algae, bacteria, and more.

Electroporation seems to be used more for bacteria. They have used it for yeast also. It has been also used for animal tissues, but it isn't the most suitable target organism. It seems better for in vitro systems since for most electroporation systems need the tissues or cells to be transfected in a cuvette.


For gene guns, the efficiency depends on the environment and the type of cells being used. The transfection efficiency varies for various cell types. I can't find many estimates for the efficiency of gene guns. But some of them are 10-20% of the DNA. Electroporation is agreed to have a very high efficiency. According to Wikipedia:

Normal preparation of compentent cells can yield transformation efficiency ranging from 106 to 108 cfu/μg DNA. Protocols for chemical method however exist for making supercompetent cells that may yield a transformation efficiency of over 1 x 109.[6] Electroporation method in general has better transformation efficiency than chemical methods with over 1 x 1010 cfu/μg DNA possible, and it allows large plasmids of 200 kb in size to be transformed.

Ease of use

Both are very easy to use. They only require the press of a few buttons. However, if you want to find out how to use, you should read the manuals and protocols. The Helios gene gun system manual is available here. The MicroPulser electroporation system also from Bio-Radd has the manual here.


Maintenance for a gene gun is pretty simple. For example, Bio-Rad's handheld gene gun has a simple maintenance (from here):

The improved modified barrel is low in maintenance. It can be cleaned easily, using 70% ethanol. The tip of the barrel contains a circular nylon mesh, which should be replaced regularly to retain optimum performance. To change the mesh, simply unscrew the tip, remove the spent mesh and insert a new one over the O-ring. Once the tip is screwed back in-place, the hand-held gene gun is operational.

Electroporation needs almost no maintenance as well.

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