Dialysis is a common, inexpensive technique used to separate molecules based on diffusion. The method utilizes a semi-permeable membrane that allows the movement of certain components, based on size.
The most important aspect of dialysis is a semi-permeable membrane, which has pores that impose a molecular weight cut-off, allowing molecules below a certain size to pass through.
For example, a 10k membrane will generally retain molecules larger than 10 kilodaltons. However, the molecular weight cutoff is not a discrete or precise boundary. The membrane typically contains a broad range of pore sizes, so a small fraction of molecules near the cutoff may be lost.
Since the molecular weight cutoff is defined using globular proteins, linear molecules of similar mass, like DNA or RNA, may slip through. Membranes are typically chosen one half to one third the molecular weight of the desired molecule.
Before beginning the procedure, the membrane is presoaked in dialysate. This makes it easier to use, and removes any preservatives. Once ready, the sample is collected, typically with a syringe and is then added to the dialysis container. This can be bare tubing, or contained within a cassette.
Excess air is removed from the dialysis setup to maximize the sample's surface area with the membrane. The setup is then placed into the dialysate with stirring to maximize the diffusion. It should float to not inhibit stirring.
The dialysate is changed at relevant intervals as equilibrium between sample and dialysate is reached. After the last change, the reaction is typically left to run overnight. After a sufficient time period, the buffer-free or -exchanged sample is removed from the cassette. Once collected, the sample can be analyzed or further processed, depending on the nature of the experiment.