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How To Keep Your Mammalian Cells Happy And Healthy

Posted in: Cells and Model Organisms
How To Keep Your Mammalian Cells Happy And Healthy

There’s more to mammalian cell culture than just making sure that your cells don’t die. It is a lot like taking care of children. You have to feed them, make sure that they’re growing well, and keep them under constant supervision.  If the cells are put through extreme conditions (over-confluency, media-deprivation, inaccurate temps, etc.), their characteristics could completely change, and they will no longer be the same cells that you started with or think you’re working with..  These changes can have a major impact on your experimental results and consistency. Here are a few simple, but often-overlooked, tips for keeping your mammalian cell lines happy and healthy, passage after passage.

  1. Temperature: Make sure that your cells are growing at the right temperature (37°C). It is not enough to simply rely on the reading on the outside of the incubator. You should place a thermometer inside, in an easily visible location, and make sure that the incubator reading matches the thermometer. If the readings don’t match, you will need to calibrate the incubator. The instructions on how to calibrate will usually be in the incubator manual.
  2. CO2: Make sure that the cells are receiving the right amount of CO2 (5.0%). You should periodically use a Fyrite Analyzer or similar instrument to make sure that the incubator reading is accurate.
  3. Humidity: Most water-jacketed incubators will have a separate tray on the bottom that you have to fill with water. Make sure there’s always enough water in there so that the incubator is nice and humid. It is also very important to use sterile water. This water is often the source of cell culture contamination.
  4. Ethanol, Ethanol, Ethanol: Every time you are working with cells, it is of utmost importance to use lots and lots of 70% ethanol. Spray it on your gloves, spray it on your hands, spray it on the outside and inside doors of the incubator, spray it on the media bottles before using them, spray it around the microscope, spray it in the hood…heck, you can even spray some over your shoulder for some good luck. Spray it anywhere and everywhere that you can think of that can be a source of contamination for your cells.
  5. Armor Beads: If your lab experiences lots of contamination issues, it might be a good idea to invest in some Lab Armor Beads. These beads replace the water in a water bath.  They are compatible with most conventional water baths  – but double check before you make the purchase, of course. They are easy to use and easy to clean (just spray them with some…you guessed it…Ethanol!) They dramatically reduce the risk of contamination.

Keep a close eye on these simple things and you will have a healthy, thriving culture of mammalian cells.

What are your tips for keeping your mammalian cells healthy and happy?

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  1. meaningless on June 21, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    I usually, if not always, found that water bath is the culprit in the case of mass contamination. I have no knowledge of the beads mentioned in the article and thanks for the information.

  2. Teo Guan Young on February 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Hi there, reading this post making me remembered my 5-years-cell culture-moments. During those 5 years, I always make sure that when I thaw the cell from cyropreservation, I always try to thaw the cells in the shortest time prior to immediately transfer to pre-warmed media.

    Besides that, I will ensure that the cells that I grow are really healthy prior to cyropreservation to ensure that they will be healthy and happy after thaw them once again =)

    Hope these 2 tips are useful.=)

  3. 5 to 16 chars on February 3, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for that. I do enjoy reading your website, but as a protist biologist, I often feel maligned!

  4. Nick on February 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for the comment. Of course, the article refers to mammalian cells — we’ve changed it now to reflect this.

    Thanks for pointing out the error!

  5. 5 to 16 chars on February 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I’m used to a bias toward Homo sapiens in science reporting generally, but this is ridiculous! What about all the other “cells” that scientists culture? Parasites, algae, amoebae, etc., etc. I’m sure most varieties of “cells” do NOT want 37°C, nor 5% carbon dioxide. I don’t mind if most articles are directed toward human-orientated scientists, but don’t assume that encompasses everyone!

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