The development of culture media for mammalian cells has been studied for more than 50 years. The first attempts at culturing animal cells in vitro made use of biological fluids, such as serum and other blood or tissue extracts. This was followed by the attempt to culture animal cells in defined media through the analysis of the contents of biological fluids (1). Another approach, developed by Eagle, consisted of finding the minimum ingredients that were essential for growth, which led to the development of Eagle's minimal essential medium (EMEM) (2). This medium consisted of 13 amino acids, 8 vitamins, 6 ionic species, and dialyzed serum to provide the necessary undefined components required for growth.

As new cell lines became available in the scientific community, new formulations were developed. Many of these cell lines could be cultured in Eagle's MEM, while others required more complex formulations. These included Dulbecco's modification of Eagle's medium (DMEM) (3), F12 (4) medium, and Roswell Park Memorial Institute (RPMI) medium (5). As progress was made in the understanding of cell metabolism and growth factor requirements, various serum-free formulations were also developed.

Presently, there are many formulations available for the culture of animal cells. The decision of which formulation to use is dependent on the purpose of the culture. For the production of viruses or other nonspecific molecular studies, basic formulations such as serum-supplemented MEM are often used. However, for other studies where undefined components can affect the results, or in large-scale production systems where productivity is an issue, serum-free formulations are relied upon.

The supplementation of culture media with undefined components, such as serum, has many inherent disadvantages. This has fueled the demand for better serum-free media in both the research and the industrial communities. New formulations are being developed all the time, and there are presently many available from various commercial suppliers. However, the performance of many of these formulations remains poor as many of them contain undefined components that can affect their quality and consistency.

This chapter focuses on the composition of classic animal culture media, with emphasis on the development of serum-free formulations.

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