In previous posts, I have talked about cell culture technique and things NOT to do in a research lab. Today, I would like to pull elements from both and offer several important suggestions to help prevent one of the biggest potential problems in a tissue culture lab: contamination. This can include chemical contamination from media, water or equipment, as well as biological contamination from bacteria, yeast, viruses, or even cross-contamination from a different strain of cells from another experiment. In the past, I’ve worked on many large experiments requiring me to passage 30+ plates of cells every 3-5 days! It was a lot to keep track of, and if anything became contaminated, it would have caused huge problems and setbacks for me.
Here are several guidelines I always keep in mind when working in a tissue culture lab:
- Wear gloves and a lab coat and keep long hair tied back.
- Work in a laminar flow hood when passaging cells.
- Wipe down working surfaces with ethanol.
- Use sterile equipment.
- Stay as organized as possible—label everything and set up all of your materials before getting started.
- Inspect all equipment and media for visible contamination before use.
- If you must completely remove a lid from a tube, plate or bottle, set it down within the hood with the open surface facing up. Otherwise, keep tubes, plates or bottles closed as much as possible.
- Do not pass your hands/arms over any open bottle, plate or tube.
- Use proper antibiotics in your culture media.
- When finished, do the following: write observations, methods and results in your lab notebook, put everything away, dispose of materials properly, wipe down working surfaces with ethanol, and turn on UV lamp within laminar flow hood for 10 minutes to sterilize the area.