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When Cells Contaminate Other Cells

No cell biologist welcomes contamination, whether it’s fungal or bacterial. A contaminated flask of cells means that an experiment quite literally goes down the drain (along with copious amounts of bleach), and that a new vial of cells needs to be thawed and grown again.

In addition to all this, the sterile cell culture hood and the incubator used to store cells while they are growing also need to be thoroughly cleaned to ensure that they are not harboring potential contaminants. These are routine procedures that take place upon fungal or bacterial contamination, and most labs follow them rigorously. However, what happens if one human cell line is contaminating another?

The mixing of cell lines, according to a report from NPR, is a surprisingly common problem among cell biologists today [1]. It’s an easy thing to do: someone can either mislabel a flask of cells, or accidentally transfer one cell line into a flask containing a different cell line. If the contaminating cell line grows quickly, as is often the case with cancer cell lines, for example, it will simply take over.

This happened in Dr. Robert Clarke’s lab: a cell line isolated from a cancer patient was contaminated with an existing cell line. The lab had to publish a paper explaining the error [2]. A simple genetic test can distinguish between each cell line and eliminate any confusion.

At Lifeline Cell Technology®, we:

  • Ensure that our normal human cells are of the highest quality – free of contamination from cell lines!
  • Certify our tissue sources: there is no confusion as to who our donors are.
  • Guarantee that from the point that we receive the donor tissue to when we have isolated and cryopreserved the cells, each cell type is monitored to ensure that no mixing of cells has occurred.


[1] Harris, R. “Scientists Often Skip a Simple Test that Could Verify Their Work.” NPR, December 14, 2014.

[2] Harris, R. “Mistaken Identities Plague Lab Work With Human Cells.” NPR, December 9, 2014.

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