A Better Brew – Nature Technology Feature on Cell Culture

Excerpt from ‘A Better Brew’, a Nature Technology Feature on Cell Culture

Cells that thrive in the lab make for happy researchers. And vice versa: biology experiments can grind to a halt if investigators fail to get their cell cultures growing in the right nutrient medium.

That is why the market for such culture media is a lively one, with scores of commercial and home-brewed mixes available to help biologists to deal with all the different cell types that their experiments might require. But although the field of cell culturing can draw on generations of experience, making the right choice of medium is still more of an art than a science.

Even slight differences in media can have a large impact on cells – often for no clear reason. Many scientists mix their own culture media, but that can hamper the reproducibility of scientific findings. John Masters, an experimental pathologist at University College London and editor of numerous books on animal and human cell culture, says that the recipe for such ‘home-brews’ can be difficult to follow owing to the sheer number of ingredients, as well as variations in purity and content between suppliers, variations between batches from a single supplier, and the difficulties of making relatively small quantities of a labile mixture of chemicals consistently.

However, as scientists come to terms with the importance of knowing exactly what their cells are thriving on, the field is becoming more rigorous. Some researches, for example, are trying to eliminate culture-media components that originate from animals, because of fears that they could contaminate or infect potential human therapeutics down the line. Other investigators are trying to make growth media reproduce a natural environment ┬ámore realistically – for example by creating three-dimensional (3D) tissue structures.

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