Using antibiotics to stop contamination in cell cultures changes them, study finds

The common lab practice of adding antibiotics to cell cultures to prevent contamination can actually induce genetic changes in the cells, a paper senior-authored by Nadav Ahituv, PhD, found. Ahituv is a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine.

Ahituv and graduate student, Ann Hane Ryu, first author of the paper, which appeared in Scientific Reports, decided to expand on their lab’s recent finding that the antibiotic rifampin can cause significant changes in the expression of genes and regulatory elements in human liver cells.

“While we were doing this experiment, I was thinking: we treat cells with antibiotics all the time in cell culture and nobody’s looked at how this might affect gene expression and gene regulation,” said Ahituv.

The two devised a test using liver cells to track genetic changes to a cell culture. They found that the antibiotic altered expression in 209 genes, particularly in those related to drug and stress response. They also found changes in more than 9,500 gene regulatory elements.

Based on the study, Ahituv recommends that researchers studying drug response avoid the use of antibiotics, and instead take other precautions against contamination.


Common Use of Antibiotics in Cells Grown for Research Could Distort Tests

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