Cell Culture

Cell culture refers to the removal of cells from an animal or plant and their subsequent growth in a favorable artificial environment.  The cells may be removed from the tissue directly and disaggregated by enzymatic or mechanical means before cultivation, or they may be derived from a cell line or cell strain that has already been established.

Culture Conditions

Culture conditions vary widely for each cell type, but the artificial environment in which the cells are cultured invariably consists of a suitable vessel containing the following:

  • A substrate or medium that supplies the essential nutrients (amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals)
  • Growth factors
  • Hormones
  • Gases (O2, CO2)
  • A regulated physico-chemical environment (pH, osmotic pressure, temperature)

Most cells are anchorage-dependent and must be cultured while attached to a solid or semi-solid substrate (adherent or monolayer culture), while others can be grown floating in the culture medium (suspension culture).


If a surplus of cells are available from subculturing, they should be treated with the appropriate protective agent (e.g., DMSO or glycerol) and stored at temperatures below –130°C (cryopreservation) until they are needed.  For more information on subculturing and cryopreserving cells, refer to the Guidelines for Maintaining Cultured Cells.

Applications of Cell Culture

Cell culture is one of the major tools used in cellular and molecular biology, providing excellent model systems for studying the normal physiology and biochemistry of cells (e.g., metabolic studies, aging), the effects of drugs and toxic compounds on the cells, and mutagenesis and carcinogenesis. It is also used in drug screening and development, and large scale manufacturing of biological compounds (e.g., vaccines, therapeutic proteins). The major advantage of using cell culture for any of these applications is the consistency and reproducibility of results that can be obtained from using a batch of clonal cells.

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