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Serum supplements cell culture media

Cell culture media for in vitro cell cultivation supports the proliferation of cells in the lab or in a manufacturing environment. Media come in liquid or powder form, which must be hydrated and sterilized before use. For applications where animal-derived components are not a concern, basal cell culture media are often supplemented with serum, which acts as a source for growth factors, albumins, and other components that promote robust cell growth. Options for sera include FBS, bovine calf serum, and engineered serum/serum alternatives.

Benefits of fetal bovine serum

Added at a concentration of 5% to 10%, fetal bovine serum provides nutrients, attachment factors, and other components for cells – including fibroblasts – in culture systems. Serum also acts as a buffer against pH fluctuations. It has high levels of growth promotion factors like macromolecular and carrier proteins that maximize cell growth. Since FBS is derived from fetuses, it’s naturally low in antibodies. For these reasons it’s the most common category of serum used.


Here are answers to some frequent questions regarding FBS.

What is the composition of FBS?

Fetal bovine serum contains many nutritional and macromolecular factors such as amino acids, lipids, and sugars. It has very low levels of antibodies and high levels of growth factors to optimize cell culture processes. Since FBS is not a fully defined media component, the composition may differ between batches. It may include more than 1000 components.

What are the types of FBS products?

There are many types of fetal bovine serum products that vary by source, processing, and testing. At Cytiva, we offer a broad range of sterile-filtered and quality-tested FBS products to meet different requirements. Each lot of serum is pooled after filtration and before dispensing. This step, called true pool processing, ensures uniformity and consistency between bottles. And it increases the consistency and quality of our serum products. Our FBS is derived from blood obtained in various countries, with most products sourced from the United States. There are three main categories:

  • Defined FBS: for users with concerns about endotoxin levels. These US sourced sera are filtered through 40 nm filters and have endotoxin levels ≤ 10 EU/mL.
  • Characterized FBS: for users concerned about the possibility of introducing bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) to their cell culture. These products are sourced from New Zealand and Australia.
  • Standard FBS: commonly used in research applications for growth of common cell types.

Other types of fetal bovine serum products include:

Common applications of FBS in cell culture

Fetal bovine serum is used for in vitro eukaryotic cell culture in:

  • Vaccine production
  • Biotechnology research and production
  • Stem cell research
  • Animal diagnostics
  • Biopharmaceuticals