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Adherent & Suspension Cell Cultures

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  • 0:03 Cell Culture 101
  • 1:26 What Are Adherent Cells?
  • 2:39 Cell Passaging
  • 3:35 What Are Suspension Cells?
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

One cell likes to anchor itself to the surface, while another enjoys free-floating in solution. Use this lesson to learn about two basic cell types encountered in cell culture: adherent and suspension cell cultures.

Cell Culture 101

We call cells the building blocks of life because they make up all the tissues and parts of our bodies. Cells can help us fight off illness, and they make up the blood that circulates through our bodies. Sometimes, a cell can multiply rapidly, causing cancer. Other times, a cell can aid in creating a fresh new batch of cells for the body to use.

Clearly, cells are important, but how does a scientist study a single cell? One approach is through a technique called cell culture. Cell culture is a process used to isolate, or separate, cells from plant or animal tissue and then place those cells in an environment where they can grow and thrive. You will often encounter scientists using cell culture in biology laboratories, where they use a tissue culture flask (like a home for the cells) and a cell culture medium (a liquid solution that provides nutrients).

The reasons scientists use this equipment is to grow, or culture, the cells and keep them healthy. There are two main methods used to grow cells in a lab: an adherent culture and a suspension culture. The method you choose to use is determined by the cell's morphology, which is its shape and appearance, because the way a cell grows will affect the way it's shaped. Let's discuss adherent and suspension cell cultures in more detail for a better understanding.

What Are Adherent Cells?

Adherent cells, also called anchorage-dependent cells, are grown in cell culture medium while attached to the bottom of a tissue culture flask. Commonly, cells that come from tissue are considered to be adherent. When the cells are added to a tissue culture flask filled with cell culture medium and allowed to sit for about a day, they will begin to settle on the bottom and spread out. As they spread out, the cells secure a firm hold by adhering to the bottom surface of the flask.

To dislodge the cells for removal, scientists will use either a mechanical or chemical method. The mechanical method involves physically removing the cells by cell scraping, which involves using a spatula or scraper to gently remove the cells from the bottom. Unfortunately, no matter how gentle you are, this method risks harming or killing some cells. That's why many scientists choose to use the chemical method.

The chemical method uses a type of enzymatic solution, such as trypsin. This type of solution contains enzymes that cut away or digest the adhesions used by the cell to stick to the bottom of the flask. After the adherent cells are released, they will float in the medium.

Cell Passaging

When growing cells using cell culture, cells may need to undergo cell passaging, which is when you move some or all of the cells to a fresh medium to make space for new cells and encourage more growth. Since adherent cells stick to the bottom of the flask, it is quite easy to determine when these cells require passaging.

If you see that the adherent cells have completely filled up the bottom of the flask, that means they're confluent - the cells have grown to the point where there's no room for more. This is a great indication that it is time to grab a cell scraper or bottle of trypsin and split the cells into multiple flasks for extra growing space.

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