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Atlas of Living Cell Cultures by Toni Lindl and Rosemarie Steubing, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013, 521 pages, ISBN 978-3-527-32887-1

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Cultured cell lines have become widespread tools in biomedical and animal research, as substrates for diagnostics, and in the production of biopharmaceuticals. All too frequently these cell lines are taken for granted and not given the critical attention that they require. Lindl and Steubing's book comes as a timely reminder that proper quality control in cell culture requires that we look at our cells at regular intervals and under different culture conditions. A change in morphology is often the first indication that the cells are stressed by altered culture conditions or that they have been misidentified or cross-contaminated by another, more vigorously growing cell line. Cells in culture are living organisms and cannot be treated in the same way as a simple reagent. Although culture conditions have improved since the early days when cell lines were first isolated, errors in technique, lapses in good practice, and ignorance of the common pitfalls are still common as illustrated by the prevalence of mycoplasma contamination and misidentification. Details of the procedures involved in protecting cultures against contamination and misidentification are beyond the scope of this book, although the problems are highlighted in Chapter 2, but the emphasis placed on morphological appearance at different cell densities provides a clear message to those involved in cell culture: look at your cells and make sure that they conform to the appearance expected at the stage of culture and cell density at which you are working.

...clear message to those working in cell culture “look at your cells and make sure that they conform to the appearance expected at the stage of culture”...

The book starts with an introduction to the morphological study of cells in vitro, describing the commonly observed appearance of fibroblastoid and epithelioid cells in a two dimensional array (not always comparable to the morphology in vivo). Chapter 2 outlines common procedures for culture and preservation but the book does not claim to provide detailed instructions that are available elsewhere. Subsequent chapters present photographs and descriptive text for over 200 commonly used cell lines, plus 26 examples of human primary cultures. The authors admit that this is a small sample of all cell lines in use but emphasize that the focus is on the more commonly used cell lines. The photographs of the cell lines are presented at low magnification (100×) at low and high cell densities and at high magnification (400×) at low cell densities. This emphasises that cells must be examined at different stages of growth for a full appreciation of their culture morphology and behaviour, i.e. whether the cells grow in isolation, are freely migrating, as for fibroblasts, or grow in patches, as for epithelial cells. The terms “fibroblast” and “epithelial” are used throughout but it might have been preferable to adopt the style of the introduction and use “fibroblastoid” and “epithelioid” or “fibroblast-like” and “epithelial-like” or even “spindle-shaped” and “polygonal” to indicate that these are descriptive terms related to the morphology of known cell types and need not correspond to the cell type of origin. For example, the glioblastoma-derived T-406 is described as fibroblast(ic) while another glioblastoma-derived line, U-251 MG is described as “epithelial” although their morphologies are similar. Usage of these terms is traditional and unlikely to change but should be recognised as a convenience and not interpreted too literally (which I am sure the authors do not).

Three misidentified cell lines, Chang Liver, Hep-2, and ECV-304, are included. Misidentification is acknowledged in the descriptive text accompanying each cell line but perhaps these cell lines should have been excluded as their inclusion suggests that they exist in their own right rather than as their contaminants, HeLa and T24. Including them perpetuates the belief that they are, somehow, different entities.

The photographic quality is very good and the data on each cell line is clearly presented. It is good that DNA-profiling data is provided although it would have been useful to know the protocol used by CLS (Cell Lines Service).

In conclusion, I would think that this would be a very useful book to have in your cell culture laboratory. It provides valuable information on the appearance of many common cell lines and would encourage those doing cell culture to become familiar with the morphology of their cells and make them aware of any changes that occur. It would also be an excellent teaching tool to show to students and make them aware of the diversity (and similarities) among cultured cell lines.