The culture medium is the most important component of the culture environment, because it provides the necessary nutrients, growth factors, and hormones for cell growth, as well as regulating the pH and the osmotic pressure of the culture.

Although initial cell culture experiments were performed using natural media obtained from tissue extracts and body fluids, the need for standardization, media quality, and increased demand led to the development of defined media. The three basic classes of media are basal media, reduced-serum media, and serum-free media, which differ in their requirement for supplementation with serum.

Basal media

Gibco cell culture medias

The majority of cell lines grow well in basal media, which contain amino acids, vitamins, inorganic salts, and a carbon source such as glucose, but these basal media formulations must be further supplemented with serum.

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Reduced-serum media

Serum-free media

Bottle containing Gibco Serum-Free Media

Serum-free media (SFM) circumvents issues with using animal sera by replacing the serum with appropriate nutritional and hormonal formulations. Serum-free media formulations exist for many primary cultures and cell lines, including recombinant protein producing lines of Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO), various hybridoma cell lines, the insect lines Sf9 and Sf21 (Spodoptera frugiperda), and for cell lines that act as hosts for viral production (e.g., 293, VERO, MDCK, MDBK), and others. One of the major advantages of using serum-free media is the ability to make the medium selective for specific cell types by choosing the appropriate combination of growth factors. The table below lists the advantages and disadvantages of serum-free media.


  • Increased definition
  • More consistent performance
  • Easier purification and downstream processing
  • Precise evaluation of cellular functions
  • Increased productivity
  • Better control over physiological response
  • Enhanced detection of cellular mediators


  • Requirement for cell type-specific media formulations
  • Need for higher degree of reagent purity
  • Slower growth

Cell culture media best practices

Here are a few simple tips & tricks to help ensure your cell culture media are maintained for optimal performance.

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If refrigerated, warm your cell culture media before use. Your cells would be cold at 2–8°C, and you would be too!

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Keep your cell culture media protected from light. Light exposure degrades the essential vitamins in media that your cells need to grow.

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Once you have supplemented the cell culture media with FBS, place the complete media into the refrigerator (2–8°C ) to maintain performance.

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Use your supplemented media within 2–4 weeks to reduce the chances of contamination and the impact of pH drift.

Culture serum

Bottle containing Gibco FBS

Serum is vitally important as a source of growth and adhesion factors, hormones, lipids, and minerals for the culture of cells in basal media. In addition, serum also regulates cell membrane permeability and serves as a carrier for lipids, enzymes, micronutrients, and trace elements into the cell.  While other animal sera (e.g., horse, rabbit, goat, porcine, etc.) are available and utilized, fetal bovine serum (FBS) remains the most universally employed.

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Discover other serum products

FBS contains a sparse amount of gamma globulin, higher levels of growth factors, and fewer complement proteins than both calf and adult bovine serum.  This makes FBS ideal for propagating cell growth while also decreasing the possibility of mammalian cells binding or lysing in the culture, rationalizing the preference of FBS over other animal sera. However, using serum in media has some disadvantages, including high cost, problems with standardization, specificity, and variability, and unwanted effects such as stimulation or inhibition of growth and/or cellular function on certain cell cultures. If the serum is not obtained from reputable source, contamination can also pose a serious threat to successful cell culture experiments.

Our Gibco products, including sera, are tested for contamination and guaranteed for their quality, safety, consistency, and regulatory compliance. We offer a wide variety of serum for your specific cell culture needs—from basic research to specialty assays. Whether you need serum with the least viral risk, the lowest endotoxin levels, or sera qualified for specialty applications and assays, Gibco products offer superior value.

Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) Basics

Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) Basics

Discover the important factors to consider in FBS selection, the market scenarios that drive FBS availability and price, as well as the important terms you must know and use when searching for the right FBS for your research needs.

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