A respirometer is a device which is used to measure respiration, where organisms exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen as part of their metabolism. These devices can be used to study plants and animals alike to learn more about their respiratory patterns, and to monitor the health of an individual organism, using known information about that organism as a baseline. Respirometers are sold by a number of scientific supply companies, and they are also improvised in lab environments, since the mechanics are relatively straightforward.
Whether measuring a whole organism or a sample, a respirometer needs to be sealed to collect valid information. The device can measure the consumption of oxygen or carbon dioxide, as well as the production of oxygen or carbon dioxide. This provides information about the respiration rate of the organism being studied, and it can also provide data about how respiration takes place. The environment inside the respirometer is tightly controlled and monitored to collect data without causing injury to the organism being studied.
Using a respirometer to obtain baseline measurements, researchers can see how changes in environmental or genetic factors can impact respiration. For example, the environment can be heated or chilled to see if this causes changes, or people can study the impact of various air mixtures which can mimic air at high altitudes, air at low altitudes, or air in certain environments. With organisms like fruit flies, genetic research can include the use of respirometers to collect data on genetically modified organisms.
These devices must be carefully monitored during use to avoid creating a dangerous situation inside the respirometer. If the space becomes filled with metabolic wastes, the organism may not be able to breathe, and conversely, if the organism uses up substances such as oxygen, it will be in danger. Tight controls of the environment ensure that people know exactly what the organism has taken up and put out while inside the respirometer.
Respirometry, a general field of study referring to the study of metabolic rates in various organisms, can include the use of a respirometer. In a respirometry lab, researchers have access to a number of pieces of equipment which can be used to study metabolic rates and various metabolic processes. Understanding how metabolism functions in healthy organisms can be important, especially when people start exploring metabolic errors and their causes. Most such equipment comes with detailed guides which show how it should be used and maintained for safety and data validity.