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Using antibiotics to stop contamination in cell cultures changes them, study finds
By UCSF School of Pharmacy Editorial Staff / Thu Aug 31, 2017
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.
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.