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Antibiotics in Cell Culture: Friend or Foe?

Cell culture is a realm within itself. The medium in the culture dish includes nutrients that cells require to live and thrive. But, every once in a while, uninvited invaders breach the cultures, endangering the delicate stability of the system and tainting the scientific conclusions. Consequently, the cultures are futile and must be eradicated. But how can we put these intruders at bay? Many experts claim that employing antibiotics is one solution. These chemicals are the first line of defence against bacterial contamination.

To lower infection rates, conventional cell culture techniques frequently involve the precautionary use of antibiotics such as penicillin, streptomycin, gentamicin, or amphotericin as media additives. Nevertheless, nothing is known about the effects of these compounds on cultured cell metabolism, cell growth, differentiation, or gene expression. Do antibiotics assist to alleviate the contamination problem, or do they create new ones?

Influence of Antibiotics on Cell Metabolism

Recent breakthroughs in regenerative medicine, as well as the growing use of cultured cells for therapeutic purposes, have led researchers to better assess the impact of antibiotics on the metabolism and differentiation capacity of human cultured cells instead of cell lines. Llobet et al. demonstrated how a combination of penicillin/streptomycin or gentamicin itself can alter the development of human adipose-derived stem cells into adipocytes. Embryonic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, primary cancer cell lines, and keratinocytes all showed similar properties. Antibiotic usage can also drastically affect gene expression and regulation, potentially altering the outcomes of research on drug responsiveness, cell cycle control, and cellular proliferation.

The Adverse Impact of Antibiotics on Cell Cultures

For over 30 years, traditional three-dimensional cultures of normal human epidermal keratinocytes (NHEK) have been the standard technique in fundamental research. In 3D skin models, beta-lactam antibiotics and aminoglycosides inhibit NHEK growth and the establishment of a completely differentiated epidermis. Antibiotics’ detrimental effects on mitochondrial activity could be to blame for their side effects. Endosymbiont theory states that mitochondria are of bacterial origin, and their biomolecular components are quite similar.

To Summarise: Try to Avoid using Antibiotics in your Cell Culture

The above-mentioned data suggest that antibiotics should be avoided in cell culture as they could be detrimental to your cell culture. In the presence of antibiotics, most primary cells develop at a slower pace. With a sufficient understanding of excellent laboratory techniques, it is possible to maintain the cells free of microbial contamination. Implementing all of the rules for a sterile procedure eliminates the need for these antibiotics. Aseptic methods, such as sterile work settings, sterile chemicals and media, proper hygiene, and clean handling, form a barrier between microbes present in the environment and the sterile cell culture.

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