Mycoplasma Contamination - Why So Serious?

Mycoplasma Contamination - Why So Serious?_CHO Cells_Parker Bioscience FiltrationMycoplasma contamination poses a serious threat to biopharmaceutical manufacturers. But it's the specific characteristics of Mycoplasma that make it such a challenge.

Mycoplasma characteristics differ from those of bacteria, or a virus, in a way that truly makes Mycoplasma contamination a worst-case scenario for biopharmaceutical manufacturers. 

Bacterial contamination is the most common form of process contamination, but it is easy to detect: a cloudy media, a pH shift and spike in oxygen demand are tell-tale signs. Very little specialist equipment is required to detect this contamination and to commence isolation and decontamination activities.

Mycoplasma Contamination - Why So Serious?_Preventing Mycoplasma Contamination White Paper_Parker Bioscience Filtration



If you'd like to learn more about Mycoplasma contamination and how to tackle it read our white paper: Preventing Mycoplasma Contamination




Viruses, on the other hand, are difficult to detect: there may be little or no visual signs of contamination, although certain responses from a cell line may give some indication that a contamination has occurred. However, a virus is an obligate parasite, meaning that they are not free-living, unlike bacteria or Mycoplasma.

Mycoplasma, though, are both difficult to detect and are free-living. Detection of a Mycoplasma contamination typically requires specialist equipment and assaying techniques — and there may be no visible symptoms. A contamination can easily spread and can go undetected for some time. 


Putting Mycoplasma further under the microscope

Mycoplasma belong to a class of bacterial that lack a cell wall. The smallest free-living self-replicating organism, Mycoplasma are pleomorphic, meaning they can change shape based on environmental conditions — a characteristic enabled by their lack of cell wall.

Mycoplasma are a Prokaryotic class of microbes - the Mollicutes - which are found in mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects and plants. They were first isolated in 1898 and first isolated in cell cultures in 1956.

The Myco part of the name comes from the Greek Mykes, meaning fungus, as the first isolate appeared to be filamentous (so fungus-like) and the plasma part means formed or something molded.

Mycoplasma range in size from 0.05 to 0.4 micron but with their pleomorphic ability, they can penetrate 0.2 micron and even 0.1 micron filters under certain conditions. As they don't have a cell wall, they are resistant to antibiotics that target cell wall synthesis such as Penicillin or other beta lactam antibiotics. 

Mycoplasma can be spread by aerosols and particulates, so the lack of proper segregation of cell lines, equipment and media is often a route of infection. They can survive and even flourish at low temperatures in cell culture media and have been shown to survive in liquid nitrogen. 

The biggest source of contamination in bioprocessing facilities and laboratories is from a contaminated cell line. Bringing a contaminated cell line into a facility, and then using it, potentially contaminates the wider environment, leading to the contamination of other cell lines. 

One data source suggested up to 35 percent of cell lines in Europe and the US are contaminated by Mycoplasma. However, in the same study, only one percent of primary cell lines were found to be infected. 95 percent of all contaminants came from six species of Mycoplasma: two of which are bovine, one porcine and three human. 


So, what is the lesson here?

It's simple: know the origin of any cell lines you bring into your facility. Then, wherever possible, you should quarantine and screen the cell lines before using them in the lab environment.

Creating a physical barrier — namely by isolation — is one of the best forms of defence against Mycoplasma contamination events. 


Mycoplasma Contamination - Why So Serious?_Preventing Mycoplasma Contamination White Paper_Parker Bioscience FiltrationIf you'd like to learn more about Mycoplasma contamination and how to tackle it read our white paper: Preventing Mycoplasma Contamination


Mycoplasma Contamination in Biopharmaceutical Processes - Tackling the Source_Guy Matthews Author_Parker Bioscience Filtration

This post was contributed by Guy Matthews, division marketing manager, Parker Bioscience Filtration, United Kingdom.


Parker Bioscience Filtration specializes in automating and controlling single-use bioprocesses. By integrating sensory and automation technology into a process, a manufacturer can control the fluid more effectively, ensuring the quality of the final product. Visit to find out more.


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