cell culture media

How to know which cell culture media is right for you

Growth media remains a key component of 3D cell culture experiments ensuring cells can thrive outside their natural environment. The continuous development and optimization of cell culture media provide new insights into the association between cells and cell culture media that supports them and, as a consequence the outcome of the experiments as well. As of today, many growth media options are available depending on the need and purpose of the experiment.

It is safe to say that we have come a long way since the pioneering work of researchers such as Ross Harrison and Harry Eagle. Scientists must consider the cell type and overall goal of the experiment before choosing the culture media as this can directly affect the results (1,2).

What to look for in a cell culture medium

With so many commercially available cell culture growth media, it can be intimidating to find the optimal one for your experiments. Below are some factors to consider:

1. Cell lines

Choosing a growth media significantly affects the success of cell culture experiments (3). The choice of cell culture media depends on the type of cell lines to be cultured, the purpose of the culture, and the resources available in the laboratory. The most common cell lines used in the biotechnology industries are CHO cells, BHK-21 cells, hybridoma cells, myeloma cells, and normal diploid fibroblasts (4). In general, it is always good to start with MEM for adherent cells and RPMI-1640 for suspension cells.

2. Type of media to use: natural vs synthetic media

Each growth media, natural and synthetic, has its own advantages and disadvantages that guide researchers in their choice of which medium to choose. Natural media contains a wide range of nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and provides components for cell adherence. However, in addition to a greater risk of contamination, they also have the disadvantage of lacking uniformity in their composition. . Synthetic media have the distinct advantage of consistency and are comparatively less expensive (5).

3. Other factors

Aside from the type of media and cell lines to be used for the experiment, you need to consider the capabilities and limitations of your lab to find the best-fitting media for your experiments. For example, stem cells require media that can facilitate maintenance, differentiation, and downstream applications. Make sure that you understand your cells, goals, and lab specifications so that you select the most appropriate growth medium.


1. Cantor JR. The Rise of Physiologic Media. Trends Cell Biol. 2019 Nov;29(11):854-861. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2019.08.009. Epub 2019 Oct 14. PMID: 31623927; PMCID: PMC7001851.

2. MORGAN JF, MORTON HJ, PARKER RC. Nutrition of animal cells in tissue culture; initial studies on a synthetic medium. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1950 Jan;73(1):1-8. doi: 10.3181/00379727-73-17557. PMID: 15402504.

3. Weller TH, Wheeldon SK. The cultivation in vitro of cells derived from adult Schistosoma mansoni. I. Methodology; criteria for evaluation of cultures; and development of media. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1982 Mar;31(2):335-48. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.1982.31.335. PMID: 7072898.

4. Clifford WJ, Anellis A, Ross EW Jr. Evaluation of media, time and temperature of incubation, and method of enumeration of several strains fo Clostridium perfringens spores. Appl Microbiol. 1974 Apr;27(4):784-92. doi: 10.1128/am.27.4.784-792.1974. PMID: 4363558; PMCID: PMC380135.

5. Mariani E, Mariani AR, Monaco MC, Lalli E, Vitale M, Facchini A. Commercial serum-free media: hybridoma growth and monoclonal antibody production. J Immunol Methods. 1991 Dec 15;145(1-2):175-83. doi: 10.1016/0022-1759(91)90324-9. PMID: 1765649.