Biology research relies on the use of model systems. The type of system used can affect the scope and limitations of a research project, and also affects the cost, timeframe, and interpretation of experimental results.

There is ongoing debate in many fields as to whether animal models or cultured cells are superior model systems. Of course, the truth is that both are necessary, with advantages and disadvantages, and for some research goals, only one type of model system will do the job. Here we will discuss a few of the issues raised in the debate between cells and animal models. 

Scaling: Cultured cell experiments are highly scalable; more experiments can be done more rapidly than using animals. For example, potential cancer drugs are typically tested on large panels of hundreds of different cell lines with known mutations1. This would not be feasible with animals, but animal models allow testing on intact physiological systems of many cell types simultaneously. For example, mouse models of cancer or diabetes can be used to study the effects of a drug, or other perturbation, on blood sugar, kidney function, inflammation, and other effects, all within one animal.

Visualizing: Cells grown in culture can be easily observed using standard microscopes, and the use of modern fluorescent labels even allows imaging of membrane diffusion, cell adhesion, signal transduction, and other cellular processes at the molecular level. By contrast, mice and rats are bulky and opaque, making cellular activities very difficult to observe in vivo2,3. However, we now understand that many cellular responses are strongly affected by intercellular signaling within tissues, which limits the usefulness of cell culture data. Also, new techniques are now making the imaging of cellular and molecular dynamics in live tissues increasingly feasible2,3. In particular, intermediate systems, such explant culture models, offer many of the benefits of cell culture experiments, while preserving the complex in vivo cellular environment.

Translating: It is obvious that rodents are more similar to humans than are cultured cells, and because of this, animal models can be used to probe aspects of biology that are more relevant to human health. For example, animal models of tumor metastasis or heart disease do not have any cultured cell model equivalent. But, it is important to note that human and rodent physiology is not identical, and even sophisticated animal models can have shortcomings.

Cyagen Biosciences provides custom mouse and rat models, including transgenics, knockouts and knockins, and CRISPR/Cas9 or TALEN genome editing. We also have an extensive line of stem cells and cell culture reagents, as well as custom virus packaging. Our VectorBuilder platform provides a wide variety of molecular engineering services. Using our innovative online tools, you can design and order custom DNA constructs specific to your experimental needs. Choose from lentiviruses, AAV vectors, shRNA expression vectors, CRISPR/Cas9 vectors, and more! 

Whichever model system is best for your experiments, Cyagen can help you get your project done.


  1. Marx V. (2014) Models: stretching the skills of cell lines and mice. Nat Methods. 11:617-20.
  2. Timpson P, McGhee EJ, Anderson KI. (2011) Imaging molecular dynamics in vivo--from cell biology to animal models. J Cell Sci. 124:2877-90.
  3. Zomer A, Beerling E, Vlug EJ, van Rheenen J. (2011) Real-time intravital imaging of cancer models. Clin Transl Oncol. 13:848-54.


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