AAT Bioquest

How does cell sorting work?

Posted May 9, 2023


Cell sorting is a process that’s carried out to separate a desired cell type from other cells contained in a sample. The separation is based on the target cell’s physical or biological properties such as morphology, size, granularity, viability, intracellular protein expression, extracellular protein expression. The homogenous cells obtained after cell sorting are used for a wide range of applications including diagnosis, therapy, and further analysis or experimentation. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS), magnetic-activated cell sorting (MACS), and droplet-based microfluidic sorting are the three most common methods used for cell sorting. 


In fluorescence-activated cell sorting, cells labeled with fluorescent dyes are passed through a flow cytometer, a device that uses lasers to excite the fluorescent dyes on the cells. The flow cytometer detects and analyzes the light emitted by the excited cell and sorts the cells based on their fluorescent signal. 


In this cell sorting method, cells labeled with specific antibodies conjugated with magnetic beads are passed through a magnetic field. The magnetic field sorts the labeled cells from the other cells in the sample. 

Droplet-based microfluidic sorting 

In this method, cells are enclosed in droplets generated using microfluidic channels that can control the size and composition of droplets. Various techniques such as electrical fields or acoustic manipulation are then used to sort the cells based on on their physical properties such as size or deformability.

Additional resources

Flow cytometry and cell sorting

Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS)

Flow Cytometry Reagents

ReadiUse™ CFSE [5-(and 6)-Carboxyfluorescein diacetate, succinimidyl ester] *CAS 150347-59-4*