Understanding Tissue Culture: Plant & Animal Cell Cultivation

Understanding Tissue Culture: Plant & Animal Cell Cultivation

Tissue culture is a vital technique in modern biology, allowing scientists to grow and manipulate cells outside their natural environment. This method is used extensively in plant and animal research, providing a controlled environment for studying cellular behavior and developing valuable products.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of tissue culture, exploring key concepts, techniques, and applications.

Fundamentals of Tissue Culture

Tissue culture is a laboratory technique that involves cultivating cells from plants or animals in a controlled environment, typically in a nutrient-rich medium. This controlled environment provides the cells with all the necessary nutrients, growth factors, and physical conditions to thrive and proliferate. The primary goal of tissue culture is to study cellular behavior, develop products, and conduct experiments with a high degree of precision.

To truly understand the significance of tissue culture, it's essential to explore its historical roots and the pioneering scientists who laid the foundation for this groundbreaking technique. Tissue culture, as we know it today, has a rich history that has evolved over the years.

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One of the earliest contributors to the field of tissue culture was Ross Granville Harrison, an American biologist often regarded as the father of animal cell culture. In the early 20th century, Harrison successfully cultivated frog nerve cells in a medium, demonstrating that cells could be cultured outside the organism's body. This groundbreaking experiment in 1907 paved the way for further research into tissue culture.

Another notable figure in the history of tissue culture is Alexis Carrel, a French surgeon and biologist. Carrel's work on cultivating chick heart tissue in vitro (outside the living organism) was instrumental. He developed innovative techniques for maintaining cells in culture for extended periods, which had profound implications for studying cell biology and developing medical treatments.

Over time, tissue culture techniques evolved and diversified. Plant tissue culture emerged as a distinct field, with scientists like Gottlieb Haberlandt pioneering the growth of plant cells and tissues in a controlled environment. The ability to propagate plants from single cells or tissues revolutionized agriculture, horticulture, and plant breeding.

The mid-20th century saw the refinement of animal cell culture techniques with the establishment of the first continuous cell lines. One of the most famous of these cell lines is the HeLa cell line, derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks in 1951. HeLa cells have been pivotal in various medical and scientific advancements, including developing vaccines and cancer research.

In recent decades, tissue culture has continued to advance, with applications ranging from stem cell research to biotechnology and pharmaceutical production. The ability to manipulate and study cells in vitro has become indispensable in modern biology, and tissue culture techniques are continuously refined and adapted for various purposes.

Understanding this historical context is essential for appreciating the remarkable progress that tissue culture has made and its profound impact on science, medicine, and industry.

Types of Cell Cultures

Understanding the diverse types of cell cultures is crucial in tissue culture research. These cultures serve as the foundation for various experiments and applications. In this section, we'll delve into the intricacies of both plant and animal cell cultures.

Plant Cell Culture

Plant cell cultures can be categorized into two main types, monolayer cultures and suspension cultures:

  • Monolayer cultures: Involves the growth of plant cells on a solid surface, such as the bottom of a culture dish or flask. This type of culture is beneficial for studying adherent plant cells and is often employed in experiments involving tissue regeneration and differentiation.
  • Suspension cultures: Consists of cells that are freely suspended in a liquid medium. This allows for the propagation of cells in a three-dimensional space and is advantageous for the large-scale production of plant cells for various applications, including secondary metabolites and plant-based pharmaceuticals.

Growth Factors & Hormones

In plant cell culture, adding specific growth factors and hormones is crucial for stimulating cell growth, differentiation, and the production of specialized metabolites. These factors play a vital role in regulating various cellular processes, allowing researchers to control the development of plant cells in culture.

Animal Cell Culture

Animal cell cultures, similar to plant cultures, can also be categorized into two main types, adherent cultures and suspension cultures:

  • Adherent cultures: Involves the growth of animal cells attached to a solid surface, typically a culture dish or flask. This type of culture is used for cells that naturally adhere to substrates and is commonly employed for studying anchorage-dependent cells like fibroblasts.
  • Suspension cultures: Comprises cells that are suspended in a liquid medium, similar to plant suspension cultures. This type allows for the cultivation of cells in a three-dimensional environment and is particularly useful for cells that do not naturally adhere to surfaces.

In animal cell culture, cells can be derived from primary cultures or established as continuous cell lines:

  • Primary culture: Involves the isolation of cells directly from living tissue. These cells have a finite lifespan and eventually undergo senescence, limiting the duration of experiments using primary cultures.
  • Continuous cell lines: Immortalized cell populations that can be passed indefinitely. These cell lines, often derived from tumors or transformed cells, provide a constant and stable source of cells for long-term experiments.

Culture Setup & Maintenance

Setting up and maintaining tissue cultures requires careful attention to various factors, including choosing culture vessels, preparing culture media, and maintaining optimal culture conditions. Additionally, aseptic techniques are crucial to prevent contamination and ensure the culture's success. In this section, we’ll explore these essential aspects of tissue culture.

Culture Vessels

Selecting the appropriate culture vessel is a critical step in tissue culture. Different vessels are suitable for specific applications. Culture dishes, flasks, and multi-well plates are commonly used options. The choice depends on factors like cell type, intended experiments, and the desired surface area for cell growth.

Culture Medium

The culture medium is the nutritive environment in which cells grow and thrive. It contains essential nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, and growth factors necessary for cell proliferation. The formulation of the medium varies depending on the specific requirements of the cells being cultured.

Temperature, pH, & Humidity

Maintaining optimal environmental conditions is vital for the success of tissue cultures. Most cells thrive at 37°C, equivalent to body temperature for mammalian cells. The pH level of the medium should be carefully regulated to create an environment conducive to cell growth. Additionally, controlling humidity helps prevent evaporation and ensures stable culture conditions.

Aseptic Techniques

Maintaining a sterile environment is paramount in tissue culture to prevent contamination. Aseptic techniques involve practices such as using a laminar flow hood, wearing sterile gloves, and disinfecting all equipment and surfaces. This minimizes the introduction of microorganisms that could disrupt the culture.

Subculture & Passaging

As cells proliferate, they reach a point of confluence where they need to be subcultured or passaged. This involves transferring some cells into a new culture vessel with fresh medium. Proper subculturing techniques are crucial to maintaining healthy and actively growing cultures.

Cell Types & Morphology

Understanding the characteristics of different cell types and their morphology is essential in tissue culture. This knowledge helps researchers select the appropriate culture techniques and conditions for specific cells. This section will explore key concepts, including adherent vs. suspension cells, and delve into specific considerations for anchorage-dependent cells like fibroblasts.

Adherent vs. Suspension Cells

Cells in tissue culture can be broadly categorized as adherent or suspension cells based on their behavior in culture:

  • Adherent cells: Adherent cells naturally attach to solid surfaces like culture dishes or flasks. They require suitable substrates or culture vessels for attachment and growth. Examples of adherent cells include fibroblasts, epithelial cells, and endothelial cells.
  • Suspension cells: In contrast, suspension cells do not adhere to surfaces and grow freely in the culture medium. These cells often form multicellular aggregates or clusters in suspension culture. Suspension cells are commonly used in applications where three-dimensional cell growth is desirable, such as in the production of viral vaccines.

Anchorage-Dependent Cells

Anchorage-dependent cells, like fibroblasts, rely on attachment to a solid substrate for proliferation and survival. This attachment is mediated by cell-surface proteins that interact with the extracellular matrix. Researchers working with anchorage-dependent cells must provide appropriate culture vessels coated with substances like collagen, fibronectin, or laminin to support cell adhesion.

Understanding different cell types' unique characteristics and requirements is crucial for designing successful tissue culture experiments. Whether working with adherent or suspension cells, tailoring the culture conditions to the specific needs of the cells is essential for maintaining healthy cultures and obtaining reliable results.


Fibroblasts and mammalian cells represent two distinct categories of cells commonly utilized in tissue culture. Understanding their characteristics and behavior is fundamental for successful cultivation and experimentation.

Fibroblasts are a type of mesenchymal cell found in connective tissues throughout the body. They play a crucial role in wound healing, tissue repair, and synthesizing extracellular matrix components like collagen and fibronectin. Fibroblasts are widely used in tissue culture due to their adherence to substrates, making them suitable for monolayer cultures.

Furthermore, fibroblasts are adherent cells, meaning they naturally attach to solid surfaces. When culturing fibroblasts, providing an appropriate substrate coated with extracellular matrix proteins like collagen or fibronectin is essential. This ensures proper adhesion and promotes healthy cell growth.

Mammalian Cells

Mammalian cells represent a diverse category encompassing various cell types derived from mammals, including humans. These cells play critical roles in physiological processes and serve as valuable models for research in areas like cancer biology, drug development, and regenerative medicine.

Mammalian cells exhibit significant heterogeneity, with distinct cell types possessing specialized functions. For example, epithelial cells form the lining of organs and glands, while neurons transmit signals in the nervous system. Each cell type requires specific culture conditions to thrive and maintain its unique characteristics.

Applications of Fibroblasts & Mammalian Cells

Both fibroblasts and mammalian cells find extensive applications in tissue culture. Fibroblasts are essential in wound healing studies, tissue engineering, and investigating diseases related to connective tissues. Fibroblasts also serve as feeder layers for culturing other cell types, including stem cells.

Meanwhile, mammalian cells are invaluable in various research areas, from studying fundamental biological processes to developing therapies for multiple diseases. They are pivotal in drug screening, toxicity testing, and understanding complex cellular interactions.

Considerations for Culture

Researchers must consider substrate selection, culture medium formulation, and specialized growth factors when working with fibroblasts and mammalian cells. Additionally, maintaining proper culture conditions, including temperature, humidity, and pH levels, is crucial for the health and proliferation of these cells.

By understanding the distinct characteristics and requirements of fibroblasts and mammalian cells, researchers can design effective experiments and contribute to advancements in various fields of biomedical science.

Growth Parameters

Optimizing growth parameters is crucial in tissue culture to ensure healthy and actively growing cells. Understanding key factors such as cell density, confluency, proliferation, and senescence allows researchers to fine-tune culture conditions for specific experiments. In this section, we'll delve into these essential growth parameters.

Cell Density & Confluency

Maintaining the appropriate cell density is vital for successful tissue culture. This refers to the number of cells per unit area in the culture vessel. Cell density can influence cell behavior, including proliferation rates and differentiation potential. Achieving the desired confluency, the percentage of the culture surface covered by cells, is vital for obtaining reliable and reproducible experimental results.

Proliferation & Growth Rate

Proliferation is the process of cell division, leading to an increase in cell number. Understanding the proliferation rate of the cells in culture helps researchers plan experiments and estimate the time required for cells to reach specific confluency levels. Factors such as culture medium composition and growth factors can influence cell proliferation.


Senescence refers to the point at which cells cease to divide and enter a state of growth arrest. This natural process occurs after a certain number of cell divisions. Recognizing the signs of senescence is crucial to avoid overgrowth and maintain healthy cultures. As the culture duration increases, cells may approach their senescent state, leading to a decline in their proliferation capacity. This can influence the experimental outcomes and the overall health of the culture.

Additionally, researchers may explore ways to delay senescence in specific cell types for extended experiments, allowing for a more prolonged study of cellular behavior and functions. Understanding the relationship between culture duration and senescence is essential for designing experiments and interpreting results accurately.

Cell Counting & Viability Assessment

Accurate cell counting and viability assessment are essential steps in tissue culture. These processes allow researchers to quantify cell populations, ensure proper experimental design, and obtain reliable results. This section will cover various methods and techniques for cell counting and viability assessment.

Hemocytometer Counting

One of the most traditional methods for cell counting involves using a hemocytometer—a specialized microscope slide with a grid pattern. By placing a known volume of cell suspension onto the hemocytometer, researchers can count the cells within specific grid squares to calculate cell concentration.

Automated Cell Counters

Automated cell counters utilize image analysis technology to quickly and accurately count cells in a given sample. These instruments are especially useful for high-throughput experiments and can provide precise cell counts with minimal manual intervention.

Trypan Blue Exclusion Assay

The trypan blue exclusion assay is a viability assessment method that relies on the principle that live cells exclude the dye while dead cells do not. Researchers can determine the percentage of viable cells by staining a cell suspension with trypan blue and observing the dye uptake under a microscope.

Flow Cytometry

Flow cytometry is a powerful technique that allows for cell counting and provides detailed information about cell characteristics, such as size, complexity, and the presence of specific markers. This method is highly versatile and is commonly used in cell biology research.

Importance in Experimental Design

Accurate cell counting and viability assessment are crucial for proper experimental design. Knowing the initial cell concentration enables researchers to seed cultures at the desired density, ensuring that experiments are conducted consistently. Additionally, viability assessment ensures that only healthy and actively growing cells are used in experiments.

Specialized Techniques & Applications

Specialized techniques and applications in tissue culture open up a world of possibilities for researchers, allowing them to explore unique areas of biology and develop innovative solutions. In this section, we'll delve into three key areas: stem cell culture, hybridoma technology, and insect cell culture for vaccine production.

Stem Cell Cultures

Stem cells have the remarkable ability to differentiate into specialized cell types, making them invaluable in regenerative medicine and developmental biology research. Culturing stem cells requires specific techniques and culture conditions to maintain their pluripotency or multipotency.

Stem cell culture is pivotal in various fields, including tissue engineering, drug discovery, and studying developmental processes. Researchers utilize stem cells to generate specific cell types for therapeutic purposes and to gain insights into the fundamental mechanisms of cell fate determination.

Hybridoma Technology

Hybridoma technology involves the fusion of antibody-producing B cells with immortalized myeloma cells. This fusion creates hybrid cells that can produce specific antibodies indefinitely. These monoclonal antibodies have widespread applications in diagnostics, therapeutics, and research.

Monoclonal antibodies generated through hybridoma technology are used in a wide range of applications, including immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, ELISA assays, and targeted therapies for various diseases, including cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Insect Cell Culture for Vaccine Production

Insect cell culture, particularly using the Sf9 cell line derived from the fall armyworm, is a popular system for producing recombinant proteins, including vaccines. Baculovirus expression systems are employed to introduce foreign genes into insect cells, allowing for the production of complex proteins.

Insect cell culture has been instrumental in producing vaccines for diseases like influenza and human papillomavirus (HPV). This system offers advantages in generating large quantities of high-quality recombinant proteins for vaccine development.

Quality Control & Sterility

Quality control and sterility are paramount in tissue culture to ensure the reliability of experimental results and the health of cultured cells. This section will explore the importance of maintaining a sterile environment, detecting mycoplasma contamination, and managing contamination effectively.

Mycoplasma Detection

Mycoplasma contamination is a common concern in cell culture and can significantly affect experimental outcomes. Mycoplasmas are tiny bacteria that can infect cell cultures without causing visible changes. Detecting mycoplasma contamination requires specialized testing methods, such as PCR or enzymatic assays.

Sterile Techniques

Maintaining a sterile environment is essential to prevent contamination of tissue cultures. Researchers must follow aseptic techniques, including working in a laminar flow hood, wearing sterile gloves, and disinfecting equipment and surfaces. Strict adherence to sterile procedures reduces the risk of introducing unwanted microorganisms into the culture.

Contamination Management

Despite best efforts, contamination can still occur in tissue culture. When contamination is suspected or detected, prompt action is crucial. Contaminated cultures should be isolated, and affected materials should be disposed of safely. Additionally, it's essential to identify the source of contamination and implement preventive measures to minimize future occurrences.

Scaling Up & Cryopreservation

Scaling up tissue culture and implementing cryopreservation techniques are crucial steps in cultured cells' large-scale production and long-term storage. This section will explore the considerations and techniques involved in both processes.

Large-Scale Culture Systems

Scaling up involves transitioning from small-scale cultures to larger vessels or bioreactors. Various systems are available for large-scale culture, including stirred-tank bioreactors, hollow-fiber systems, and microcarrier-based cultures. Each system has specific advantages and considerations, such as oxygenation, nutrient supply, and shear stress.

Cryoprotectants & Cryopreservation Protocols

Cryopreservation allows researchers to store cells for extended periods, preserving their viability and functionality. Cryoprotectants, such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) or glycerol, protect cells from freezing damage. Proper cryopreservation protocols, including controlled cooling rates and storage in liquid nitrogen, are crucial for successful cell recovery.

Advanced Topics in Tissue Culture

Advanced topics in tissue culture push the boundaries of what’s possible in cell biology research. This section will explore three key areas: differentiation and specialized culture systems, cloning and genetic manipulation, and antibody production.

Differentiation & Specialized Culture Systems

Differentiation involves guiding stem cells to become specialized cell types, mimicking natural developmental processes. Specialized culture systems, such as organoids and three-dimensional (3D) cultures, provide environments conducive to controlled differentiation. These systems have disease modeling, drug testing, and regenerative medicine applications.

Cloning & Genetic Manipulation

Cloning and genetic manipulation techniques allow researchers to create genetically identical cells or introduce specific genetic modifications. This can involve techniques like somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, or viral transduction. These methods have broad applications in basic research and therapeutic development.

Antibody Production

Antibody production in tissue culture involves cultivating hybridoma cells or other antibody-producing cell lines. These cells can secrete specific antibodies, which can be harvested and used for various applications, including diagnostics, immunotherapy, and research reagents.

Recent Developments & Innovations

The field of tissue culture is continuously evolving, driven by technological advancements and innovative approaches. This section will explore three areas of future development: 3D culture systems, high-throughput assays, and serum-free media formulations.

3D Culture Systems

Three-dimensional (3D) culture systems aim to mimic the complex tissue architecture found in vivo. These systems provide a more physiologically relevant environment for studying cell behavior, tissue development, and disease progression. They have applications in drug screening, personalized medicine, and tissue engineering.

High-Throughput Assays

High-throughput assays involve the rapid screening of many samples or compounds. Automated platforms and robotics are used to increase experimental throughput. High-throughput assays are invaluable in drug discovery, functional genomics, and systems biology research.

Serum-Free Media Formulations

Serum-free media formulations aim to replace or reduce the reliance on animal-derived serum in cell culture. These formulations are designed to provide all necessary nutrients and growth factors for cell growth while minimizing variability and ethical concerns associated with serum use. Serum-free media have bioprocessing, vaccine production, and stem cell research applications.

Tissue Culture in Advancing Research and Development

Tissue culture is a foundational technique in modern biology, enabling various experiments and applications. From understanding basic cell behavior to pushing the boundaries of scientific research, tissue culture plays a vital role in advancing our understanding of biology and improving human health.

As the field continues to evolve, researchers can expect even more innovative techniques and applications to emerge, further expanding the possibilities of tissue culture in the future. Let’s explore the critical role of tissue culture in these fields and emphasize the importance of specialized equipment in conducting successful experiments.

Powering Scientific Innovation

Tissue culture is instrumental in drug discovery, precision medicine, and regenerative therapies. Researchers use cultured cells to test potential drugs, study diseases at the cellular level, and develop personalized treatment strategies. Moreover, in biotechnology, tissue cultures serve as the foundation for producing biologics, vaccines, and cellular therapies, driving the evolution of modern healthcare.

In agriculture, tissue culture enables the propagation of plants with desired traits, revolutionizing crop breeding and preservation efforts. This technology allows for the rapid generation of disease-resistant varieties and the conservation of endangered species. The applications extend to environmental sciences, where tissue cultures are employed to study pollutants' effects and develop environmental conservation strategies.

The Vital Role of Specialized Equipment

Executing successful tissue cultures demands specialized equipment tailored to the precise needs of the research. From culture vessels and incubators to microscopes and sterile hoods, the right tools are indispensable for maintaining healthy cultures and obtaining reliable data. Cutting-edge instruments like flow cytometers and mass spectrometers allow for in-depth cellular analysis, further enhancing the quality and depth of research outcomes.

A Call to Advance Your Research with Excedr

To ensure your laboratory is equipped with the state-of-the-art instruments necessary for thriving tissue culture, consider partnering with Excedr. With a comprehensive range of essential lab equipment available for lease, including centrifuges, mass spectrometers, and flow cytometers, Excedr provides researchers with the tools they need to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge.

Leasing equipment from Excedr enables you to stay at the forefront of scientific innovation and offers flexibility and cost-effectiveness in managing your laboratory resources. 

Reach out to us today to learn more about our leasing program and the lab equipment available to lease. Elevate your research capabilities and contribute to the next wave of scientific breakthroughs with Excedr.