Mycoplasma Testing Challenges

Mycoplasmas present a challenge to quality control of cell cultures and biological medicinal products. Mycoplasma contaminations, especially low-grade contaminations, only can be identified through proven expertise and experience. Mycoplasma detection requires highly specialized and specific tests performed by well-trained and experienced laboratory analysts who are also able to interpret the results. Our mycoplasma testing experts at Mycoplasma Biosafety are ready at any time to take on this challenge.

Whereas contamination of cell cultures by "classical" cell-wall containing bacteria or fungi cause visible effects, mycoplasmas are different. Neither an altered turbidity nor a change in the pH of cell culture media clearly signalizes a mycoplasma contamination. Furthermore, their extremely small cell size makes them impossible to detect with a standard bright-field or phase-contrast microscope.

Avoiding mycoplasma contamination in the first place should thus be highest priority, but is difficult to achieve. Due to the lack of a cell wall, mycoplasmas are highly plastic and pleomorphic and therefore pass easily through standard filter membranes used to sterilize cell culture reagents. Neither sterile filtration nor treatment with standard antibiotics used in cell biology can guarantee mycoplasma-free cell cultures. Some mycoplasma species or strains are even cell-invasive and may thus ‘hide’ inside cells during the treatment with antibiotics and other "decontamination" reagents. For these reasons mycoplasma contaminations can spread quickly, and their presence in cell cultures and bioreactors may go unnoticed for longer periods of time.

Basically, there is just one efficient safety precaution to maintain clean, mycoplasma-free cell cultures: the periodic testing for the possible presence of mycoplasmas. Only the commitment to routine mycoplasma testing by the conventional culture methods or newly available rapid NAT-based testing assays can minimize the risk of covert contamination that can lead to serious problems. Carrying out these test and interpreting the results requires solid training and experience and cannot always be done in-house. Outsourcing mycoplasma tests to Mycoplasma Biosafety is the alternative that brings along several advantages: unambiguous results in the shortest possible time, no requirement for the maintenance of an in-house mycoplasma testing facility, and free resources to concentrate on the core business to name just some of them.

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