Know your enemy: Unexpected, pervasive and persistent viral and bacterial contamination of primary cell cultures

Hanna Niehues*, Patrick A.M. Jansen, Diana Rodijk-Olthuis, Gijs Rikken, Jos P.H. Smits, Joost Schalkwijk, Patrick L.J.M. Zeeuwen, Ellen H.J. van den Bogaard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In biomedical research, cell culture contamination is one of the main culprits of experimental failure. Contamination sources and concomitant remedies are numerous and challenging to manage. We herein describe two cases of uncommon contamination of cell cultures that we encountered, and the successful determination and eradication strategies. The first case describes the infection with human adenovirus C that originated from pharyngeal tonsils used for isolation of primary tonsillar epithelial cells. It is known that viral contamination of in vitro cell cultures can occur symptomless and is therefore difficult to identify. The contamination was pervasive and persistent, as it was widely spread in flow cabinets and apparatus, and has caused a serious delay to our research projects and the inevitable loss of valuable (patient-derived) cell sources. Eradication was successful by formalin gas sterilization of the flow cabinet and elimination of all infected cell lines from our biobank after PCR-guided determination. Secondly, we encountered a spore-forming bacterium, namely Brevibacillus brevis, in our cell culture facility. This bacterium originated from contaminated tap water pipes and spread via regular aseptic culture techniques due to survival of the bacterial spores in 70% ethanol. B brevis overgrew the cultures within a few days after seeding of the primary cells. Chlorine solution effectively killed this spore-forming bacterium. Both cases of contamination were identified using DNA sequencing which enabled the deployment of targeted aseptic techniques for the elimination of the persistent contamination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)672-676
Number of pages5
JournalExperimental Dermatology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • adenovirus
  • antibiotics
  • cell culture
  • infection
  • keratinocyte
  • spore-forming bacteria


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