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This is a list of cell cultures which have been cross-contaminated and overgrown by other cells. A project is currently underway to enumerate and rename contaminated cell lines to avoid errors in research caused by misattribution (Masters, 2002). Estimates based on screening of leukemia–lymphoma cell lines suggest that about 15% of these cell lines are not representative of what they are usually assumed to be (Drexler et al., 2002).
Contaminated cell lines have been extensively used in research without knowledge of their true character. For example, most if not all research on the “endothelium” ECV-304 or the “megakaryocyte” DAMI cell lines has in reality been conducted on bladder carcinoma and erythroleukemia cells, respectively. Thus, all research on endothelium- or megakaryocyte-specific functions utilizing these cell lines has turned out to be worthless, except as a warning example.
There are two principal ways a cell line can become contaminated: cell cultures are often exchanged between research groups; if, during handling, a sample gets contaminated and then passed on, subsequent exchanges of cells will lead to the contaminating population being established, although parts of the supposed cell line are still genuine. More serious is contamination at the source: during establishment of the original cell line, some contaminating cells are accidentally introduced into the cultures, where they in time outgrow the desired cells. The initial testing, in this case, still suggested that the cell line is genuine and novel, but in reality, it has disappeared soon after being established and all samples of such cell lines are actually the contaminant cells. It requires lengthy research to determine the precise point where cell lines have become contaminated.