Cell Culture Contamination


Cell cultures are valuable models of health and disease, especially in translational research. Cell culture is important for genome editing, stem cell technologies, cancer research, investigating the basic mechanisms involved in development and differentiation, elucidating the role of genetic alterations in normal and abnormal cellular behaviour and developing and testing therapeutics. The clinically important field of classical cytogenetics requires cell culture to obtain metaphase chromosomes from dividing cells at the mitotic stage of the cell cycle when the chromosomes are most compact and visible as distinct entities. Further, culture in vitro facilitates analysis of cells in a controlled environment; minimises morbidity and mortality of human, animal or plant subjects and enables replicate studies over long periods of time. Cell lines are essential models for testing therapeutic efficacy, including drug screening and sensitivity studies. The main difficulty with cell cultures in the clinical or research laboratory is their propensity to contamination, whether by microbes or stray cells from other cultures. It is imperative to verify the authenticity of (authenticate) cell lines and rule out microbial contamination of cell cultures before initiating a series of experiments, at regular intervals during each experimental study and at the end of the study to assure the quality and validity of experimental results.

Key Concepts

  • Cell cultures are valuable models in biomedical research.
  • Cell cultures have a propensity to become contaminated by microbes.
  • Intra‐ or interspecies cross‐contamination of cell lines by mislabelling or stray cells from other cell lines results in misidentified cell cultures.
  • High‐quality research results rely on (1) cell line authentication to rule out cross‐contamination and (2) testing cell cultures for and avoiding microbial contamination, at the beginning, at regular intervals during and at the end of a research study.
  • Contaminated or misidentified cell cultures waste both time and money and produce invalid research results.

Keywords: cell culture; tissue culture; aseptic technique; contamination; microbial; cross‐contamination; authentication

Figure 1. Fluorescence photomicrograph of a heavily Mycoplasma‐contaminated cell culture stained blue with DAPI stain. The large oval bodies are the nuclei of the cells and the small speckles are the Mycoplasma.


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Further Reading

Ian Freshney R (ed) (2016) Culture of Animal Cells: A Manual of Basic Technique and Specialized Applications, 7th, 728 pp edn. Wiley‐Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-118-87365-6.

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How to Cite close
Gollin, Susanne M, and Lewis, Dale W(Jan 2017) Cell Culture Contamination. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002560.pub2]