How to protect yourself from cell culture contamination?

Cell cultures and their importance:

Nowadays, cell cultures are one of the major tools used in cellular and molecular biology that provide tremendous model systems for studying the normal physiology and biochemistry of cells. They are used in drug development and analysis, as well as large scale manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals. In fact, these cells are removed directly from the organism or from a cell line or cell strain that had previously been established and afterwards, they are allowed to grow in an artificial, controlled environment.

Virtually, all organisms have at least one defense mechanism that helps them repel disease-causing organisms. We humans for instance, defend ourselves against microorganisms by means of a network of defense responses collectively known as the immune system. The latter is a sophisticated protective system that evolved from simpler ones but its complex development process is yet to be known.

Cell culture antagonists:

However, once isolated from other tissues, cells in cell culture are left ‘’on their own’’. The conventional 2D cell cultures in vitro poorly mimic the conditions inside the living organism, making them more susceptible to microbial colonisation. Among the notorious contaminants are bacteria, viruses, fungi, mycoplasmas and other multicellular animal parasites.

Among the notorious contaminants are bacteria, viruses, fungi, mycoplasmas and other multicellular animal parasites.

Microbial colonisation:

Indeed, microbes are ubiquitous on Earth, and their diversity and abundance are determined by the biogeographical habitat they occupy. Truth be told, biological contamination is the dread of everyone working with cell cultures since every person, reagent, or equipment in the laboratory is a potential vehicle for such microbial invasions. And sadly enough, not every day is an example of Alexander Fleming’s hot discovery of penicillin, where contamination actually advanced the path of scientific research. So, how are cell culture contamination equal to nightmares for scientists?

So, how are cell culture contamination equal to nightmares for scientists?

Well, contaminants can affect cell characteristics including growth, metabolism, and morphology-thereby contributing to unreliable and erroneous experimental results. Some of them (Mycoplasmas) go unnoticed for days due to lack of turbidity or any changes in the colour of the cell culture medium. Others will be visible, but will still compel you to interrupt the experiment. All in all, cell cultures get compromised and this certainly results in infuriating time delays, costly wastage of reagents and efforts, as well as impaired reputation of the laboratory.
It is therefore an important responsibility for everyone in the laboratory to be as careful as possible, not only for the sake of their own experiments, but also for everyone else’s.

We have gathered up 10 essential tips to avoid or minimize cell culture contamination. With experience, these measures become a habit but involuntary errors on part of the experimenter can still prevail. Thus, we advise you to still adhere to the best practices even while working with specialized instruments.

10 essential tips to avoid or minimize cell culture contamination

  • Wear gloves, lab-coats and use hoods correctly.
  • Always work in a laminar flow hood when passaging cells.
  • Wipe down working surfaces with ethanol, IMS or Minerva Biolabs decontamination reagents like Mycoplasma Off™ and Mycoplasma Off™ Wipes. Check out WaterShield™, ZellShield® & Funox® as other reliable solutions for cell culture contamination prevention.
  • Use sterile equipment and reagents.
  • Stay as organized as possible-label everything and set up all materials carefully beforehand.
  • Inspect all equipment and media for visible contamination before use.
  • DO NOT pass your hands/arms over any opened bottle, plate, or tube.
  • Use proper antibiotics in your culture media and also, limit its usage where not necessary to prevent antibiotic resistant strains from developing.
  • Record how long a cell line has been kept in culture.
  • Work with only one cell culture at a time.

Contamination is an occurrence that every person trying to grow mammalian cells in vitro will experience sooner or later. As a problem, it can vary from irritating to catastrophic. Hence, in the fight against contamination, scientists definitely draw the attention to prevention rather than elimination. We all know it-prevention is better than cure!
Minerva Biolabs offers easy-to-use solutions against microbial growth in incubators, water baths, cell cultures and culture media.

03.03.2022, Aishani Rajarai