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Capillary Electrophoresis vs. Gel Electrophoresis: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 13, 2024
Capillary Electrophoresis (CE) is a technique using capillaries to separate molecules based on their charge and size. Gel Electrophoresis is a method that separates DNA, RNA, or proteins in a gel matrix, based on size and charge.

Key Differences

Capillary electrophoresis involves the use of thin capillaries, through which samples are separated by an electric field based on charge-to-mass ratio. Gel electrophoresis, on the other hand, uses a gel matrix, typically agarose or polyacrylamide, to separate molecules based on size and charge.
CE is known for its high efficiency, speed, and requirement of only small sample volumes. Gel electrophoresis is a more traditional method, widely used for its simplicity and effectiveness, especially in DNA or protein analysis.
In CE, separation occurs in a capillary filled with a buffer solution, and different analytes are detected as they pass a detector. In gel electrophoresis, molecules are separated in a slab of gel and visualized post-separation, often through staining methods.
CE offers high resolution and the ability to analyze complex mixtures in a short time frame. Gel electrophoresis provides a straightforward visualization of molecular size distribution but typically requires longer run times.
Capillary electrophoresis is versatile, applicable in various fields like pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Gel electrophoresis is fundamental in molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry for analyzing nucleic acids and proteins.

Comparison Chart

Medium for Separation

Gel matrix (agarose or polyacrylamide)

Sample Volume

Small volumes
Larger volumes compared to CE

Separation Basis

Charge-to-mass ratio
Size and charge

Efficiency and Speed

High efficiency and fast
Lower efficiency, slower compared to CE

Application Fields

Broad, including pharmaceuticals and biotechnology
Mainly molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry

Capillary Electrophoresis and Gel Electrophoresis Definitions

Capillary Electrophoresis

A high-efficiency method for separating biological molecules in tiny capillaries.
CE proved crucial in separating complex protein mixtures.

Gel Electrophoresis

A technique for analyzing molecular components in agarose or polyacrylamide gel.
Gel electrophoresis revealed the protein's molecular weight.

Capillary Electrophoresis

A technique that separates molecules using electrically charged capillaries.
Capillary electrophoresis was used to analyze the peptide composition.

Gel Electrophoresis

A lab technique for separating DNA, RNA, or proteins using a gel matrix.
Gel electrophoresis was used to visualize DNA fragments.

Capillary Electrophoresis

An analytical technique for detailed separation and analysis of compounds.
Capillary electrophoresis provided accurate results in genetic screening.

Gel Electrophoresis

A process used in research and clinical labs for DNA and protein separation.
In the lab, gel electrophoresis was essential for the DNA fingerprinting process.

Capillary Electrophoresis

A process utilizing small sample volumes for rapid molecular analysis.
The pharmaceutical industry often employs capillary electrophoresis for drug testing.

Gel Electrophoresis

A method where molecules are separated based on size and charge in a gel.
The students used gel electrophoresis in their genetics experiment.

Capillary Electrophoresis

A method used in laboratories for separating ions based on their charge and size.
CE was effective in analyzing various ionic species in the sample.

Gel Electrophoresis

A fundamental tool in molecular biology for separating nucleic acids or proteins.
Researchers utilized gel electrophoresis for RNA analysis.


Can gel electrophoresis separate DNA fragments?

Yes, it's commonly used for separating and visualizing DNA fragments.

What is capillary electrophoresis primarily used for?

It's used for separating and analyzing small volumes of complex mixtures.

What kind of samples can be analyzed using capillary electrophoresis?

CE can analyze a variety of biological and chemical samples.

Is capillary electrophoresis faster than gel electrophoresis?

Yes, CE typically offers faster separation times.

How does gel electrophoresis visualize separated molecules?

Molecules are often visualized using staining methods after electrophoresis.

Is capillary electrophoresis used in genetic testing?

Yes, it's commonly used in genetic screening and testing.

What are the gels made of in gel electrophoresis?

Gels are typically made of agarose or polyacrylamide.

What are the main applications of capillary electrophoresis?

CE is used in various fields, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and environmental analysis.

Is gel electrophoresis suitable for protein analysis?

Yes, it's widely used for analyzing and separating proteins.

What makes capillary electrophoresis efficient?

Its efficiency comes from the use of electrically charged capillaries and small sample volumes.

How is the sample introduced in capillary electrophoresis?

Samples are introduced into capillaries filled with a buffer solution.

How does the gel matrix affect separation in gel electrophoresis?

The matrix acts as a sieve, separating molecules based on size and charge.

Can gel electrophoresis be used for RNA analysis?

Yes, it's a standard method for RNA separation and analysis.

What is the role of the electric field in gel electrophoresis?

The electric field causes molecules to move through the gel based on their charge and size.

Can gel electrophoresis determine the size of DNA fragments?

Yes, it can estimate the size of DNA fragments based on their movement through the gel.

What types of detectors are used in capillary electrophoresis?

Various detectors, including UV, fluorescence, and mass spectrometry, can be used.

How does temperature affect gel electrophoresis?

Temperature can affect the gel's consistency and the mobility of molecules.

Is gel electrophoresis useful in forensic science?

Yes, it's widely used in DNA fingerprinting for forensic analysis.

Can capillary electrophoresis separate ions?

Yes, it's effective in separating and analyzing different ionic species.

Are there different types of capillary electrophoresis?

Yes, including capillary zone electrophoresis and capillary gel electrophoresis.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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