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Do You Need Serum In Cell Culture Media?

Are you a scientist and want to take up cell culture research? You must have looked into the cells you want to study and the culture media appropriate for them. But one of the vital questions that you need to ask is whether or not to use serum in your media. Serum is one of the most important components of cell culture media and constitutes of albumins, trace elements, growth inhibitors and growth factors. The most common forms of serum that are used in cell culture studies include fetal bovine serum and calf bovine serum. Calf serum is mostly used for contact-inhibition studies whereas fetal serum is mostly used for enhancing cell growth. 5% to 10% of serum supplement is generally used in cell culture media.

The Functions Of Serum-Containing Are:

  • Serum provides basic nutrition and minerals to the cells.
  • Many cell growth-promoting growth factors are present in serum.
  • Serum adds buffering capacity to the cell culture medium.
  • Protease inhibitors present in the serum help in preventing proteolysis.
  • Serum contains cell-attachment proteins to promote cell division.
  • Moreover, mechanical protection to cells in suspension cultures are also provided by serum.

But besides having several positive impacts on cell culture media functions, the use of serum has the following drawbacks:

  • With the addition of serum, the media is more prone to contamination.
  • The extraction or purification process of the cell culture products is affected by the presence of serum in the media.
  • Serum may contain some of the growth-inhibiting factors which may hamper proliferation.
  • Serum compositions may alter and therefore adversely affect the cell growth in culture media.

Serum-free media has purified/synthetic ingredients to provide nutrients and growth factors to mimic the survival support that serum provides to the cells in culture. Many researchers are shifting to serum-free media mostly to avoid contamination issues. The major relief of using serum-free media lies in:

  • Serum-free media has better consistent composition.
  • There is a lower risk of contamination by infectious agents.
  • The errors in isolation and purification of cell culture products are negligible.
  • The ethical issues regarding the origin of fetal bovine serum are avoided.

But to ensure good quality practices for cell culture with serum-free medium, some points are important:

  • It takes time for cells to adapt to serum-free media and therefore cells have to be weaned from serum media gradually with time.
  • Additional supplements are required in suspension culture for providing mechanical protection to cells.
  • For adherent cultures in serum-free media, flasks and plates need to be layered with fibronectin for enhanced attachment.

Keeping all these points in mind, every researcher needs to decide and troubleshoot if their cell culture requires serum or not. Many experiments based on secretome analysis can be jeopardized due to the presence of serum in the culture media and therefore experiments have to be carefully planned and executed accordingly.

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