Cell culture physics

Any views expressed here on atomic physics are purely amateur. My opinions on cell culture however come from years of experience, good and bad. The thrill of successfully growing and then filming a dish of neurons was always special. The frustration of an infection in a cell line or a tissue culture facility never really dminishes.

It’s a universal rule that any infection is never anyone’s fault and always someone else’s, like a trite homily on a motivational poster. This rule holds even when everyone suspects they know who is responsible. Collective wisdom is not always correct. I’ve seen some researchers with horrendous sterile technique who somehow never got infections. I’ve worked with incredibly conscientious people who somehow could never get certain cell lines to grow. Sometimes a possible source can be traced, one lab I worked in had a recurrent yeast infection that was linked to certain individuals going to the pub at lunchtime. More often that not, apart from contamination of an entire room, if cells get infected it’s the fault of the person growing them, we just don’t like to admit it, either to ourselves or our colleagues.

It feels slightly hypocritical to seemingly be having a dig at the use of cell lines having used them so much myself over the years. That’s not my intention. The target is careless interpretation of data from cell culture that doesn’t take into account just how transformed immortalised cell lines are or indeed any cell that’s being obliged to grow on a rigid two-dimensional substrate. The exponential use of stem cells and organoids avoids some of these problems but introduce their own problems of complacency and inappropriate extrapolation.

The final panel has been drawn with a generic cell but for me it recaptures the tentative excitement of the morning after, returning to a dish of primary neurons after a laborious day before of careful preparation.

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