What is Puromycin?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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Puromycin is an antibiotic researchers can use when working with cell cultures when they need a selective agent, a compound that will kill all cells without resistance genes, leaving only specific targets behind. This antibiotic is available through laboratory suppliers and is suitable for research purposes only. People can order it in various concentrations and sizes, depending on their needs, from companies capable of producing it.

This compound works by interrupting protein synthesis in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. This causes cells to die, unless they have a gene for resistance, allowing them to survive exposure to the antibiotic. Researchers can tag specific cell types with this gene and grow them in culture with puromycin to create a pure culture. Any contamination will be eliminated by the antibiotic. Selective agents are useful for genetic engineering and other kinds of research where people want to be able to isolate particular kinds of cells.

People can add the antibiotic to the culture medium, preparing a culture plate for selection before adding cells they intend to grow. The medium provides nutrition for the cells so they can start growing and dividing, producing a cluster of cells for the researcher to work with. Using antibiotics in the medium keeps unwanted cells, as well as organisms, out; if bacterial contamination occurs, for example, the puromycin will kill it because it will be susceptible to the antibiotic.


Although many people associate antibiotics with medications people can take to treat infections, puromycin is not safe for human or animal use. It will injure cells in the body using the same inhibitory processes it utilizes in culture and could potentially cause severe illness if people took a large dose. For this reason, the packaging has detailed warning labels alerting people to the fact that they should not use it in medical treatment, and companies that make puromycin and medications are careful to keep the two isolated to avoid contamination.

Researchers can choose from a range of selective agents when they are preparing cells for culture and growing specific cell lines. It is possible to purchase cells already equipped with resistance genes for projects, sometimes through the same suppliers offering antibiotics. Researchers may use a lab protocol or a custom one they develop when deciding on how to handle cells in culture to make sure their results are consistent, reliable, and replicable so they can publish and distribute results.


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