Contamination. It’s a problem that all cell culturists are familiar with. If undetected, biological contaminants can significantly affect viability and resulting data, potentially invalidating your research. Identifying and preventing contamination is understandably a priority for all life science labs, but even more so for cell culture teams working in therapeutic protein production, vaccine development and regenerative medicine – among other disciplines; anywhere that the cost of lost research is especially great.
Knowing what to look for
Bacteria and fungi have a strong presence in nature, and grow extremely fast in culture. So, although the threat of contamination from these microorganisms is ever-present, you can easily spot their presence by the turbidity of the growth medium or the floating, branching mycelia. Bacterial contamination can often be confirmed under a 10x microscope within a few days of contamination. This early detection could save significant time and costs.
With the ability to affect metabolism, chromosomes and morphology of infected cells, mycoplasma can significantly affect the quality and reliability of data collected. Their small size of only 0.2–0.8 µm allows them to grow into dense populations, avoid detection, and may render filtration techniques inadequate. The best way to identify mycoplasma is to use a DNA stain followed by microscopic evaluation – something that can unfortunately be very time-consuming.
Viral contamination of cultures can be especially difficult to remedy, as the antiviral compounds used to target them are generally highly toxic to the cell line. The major concern with viral contamination is your safety. Possible human transfer of unknown viruses is a big reason, explaining why you should always use a properly certified biological safety cabinet and proper aseptic techniques.
Cross-contaminated human and animal cell lines can significantly undermine study results. There have been numerous cases where cell lines have been incorrectly classified. An increasing number of journals are requiring evidence of DNA fingerprinting for cell types used in publications, and the most reputable cell banks now offer certified lines and DNA confirmation.
A critical first step
Biological contamination is a serious issue and one that every cell culture lab is susceptible to. Being able to correctly identify different types of contamination is an essential first step in ensuring the safety of your cultures and averting any detrimental consequences to your research.
Learn more about leading ways to safeguard your research and prevent contamination in an engaging and educational Cell Culture Cafe Webinar.