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Cell culture media support cell growth

One of the major techniques employed in life sciences, cell culture grows animal or plant cells in a laboratory incubator. A cell culture medium is a liquid that allows cells to proliferate. Classical cell culture media are typically used in research labs with serum.

Specialty media support robust cell growth in research and production of biological pharmaceuticals. Specialty media are serum-free, and many are also animal-derived component-free (ADCF), protein-free, and chemically defined. In biopharma they’re often used in fed-batch culture, which is supplemented with feeds to provide specific nutrients at appropriate times during cell cultivation.

Types of classical cell culture media

Cell culture media are available in ready-to-use liquid forms and in powdered or concentrated liquid forms. Here are some commonly used classical media.

Minimum Essential Medium (MEM)

First developed by Harry Eagle, Minimum Essential Medium (MEM), sometimes called Minimal Essential Medium, contains components – essential amino acids, vitamins, inorganic salts, and others – that support the growth of mammalian cells from various species. Modified from Basal Medium Eagle (BME), MEM contains higher amounts of essential nutrients.

Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle’s Medium (DMEM)

Many research labs currently use DMEM to cultivate a wide range of mammalian cells. This is an enhanced formulation that increases amino acid, vitamin, and nutrient concentration of the original Eagle’s medium by up to four-fold. Cytiva offers low and high glucose DMEM, with or without L-glutamine and sodium pyruvate.

DMEM/F-12 medium

A mix of Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle’s Medium (DMEM) and Ham’s F-12 in 1:1 ratio, DMEM-F12 medium supports the growth of several types of mammalian cells such as glial cells and fibroblasts.

RPMI 1640 medium

Originally used to cultivate human lymphocytes without serum, Roswell Park Memorial Institute 1640 (RPMI 1640) also supports proliferation of several other types of cultured cells. Serum may be required for optimal growth of some cell types.

Classical cell culture media: FAQs

Here are answers to common questions regarding these well-established cell culture media.

What is classical cell culture media?

Classical media have been used in labs for decades to promote the in vitro growth of mammalian primary cells and cell lines. It contains inorganic salts, amino acids, and vitamins, plus other components and is typically used with serum to provide other components needed for optimal cell growth.

How do you choose a cell culture medium?

When selecting a cell culture medium, it’s important to pay attention to the type of cells being cultivated and the purpose of the culture. If you intend to make a recombinant protein, vaccine, or other potential therapeutic, consider using a specialty medium that minimizes or avoids the use of animal-derived components.

What are the key components of a cell culture medium?

Components vary widely depending on the cell type and purpose of the culture. In general, cell culture medium includes amino acids, vitamins, inorganic salts, and trace elements. Serum is typically added to classical cell culture media. Other components – such as carbohydrates and lipids – may be added to cultures when manufacturing biologics.


Learn about Cytiva’s products for upstream processing

Check out our products for cell culture and fermentation processes, including supplements, reagents, nutrient mixtures, and bioreactors.