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forbidden gatorade by Alice L. '24

cell media looks tasty...

My summer UROP involved some cell culture training, which started off with “Try not to drink the media.” This really just implies that cell media is, in fact, drinkable. It comes in a whole range of pink colors! It looks like it would be berry-flavored! At least two people I know have admitted to intrusive thoughts about sipping some media!

Before I say anything else, I should give a disclaimer that this post is based on anecdotal evidence. I haven’t tried many of these, and you should try none of these, and you should definitely not take this as an endorsement to chug cell media. Naturally, I conducted some research and am going to rank them…for purely educational purposes.

  1. RPMI (made with water) [cell media]A blue gloved hand holding a vial full of light pink liquid. The label says "Reg RPMI // 8/10 // Alice & Kevin".
    Ingredients: glucose, water, phenol red, salt, vitamins (including biotin and vitamin B12)

    Taste: 8/10
    “Like lemonade, without the lemons” 

    Is this safe??: ?/10
    The SDS 01 safety data sheet suggests that it’s “not expected to present a significant ingestion hazard under anticipated conditions of normal use.” Our current bottle may be contaminated with cancer cells 02 Not a recommended source of protein though, so cracking open a cold bottle of media is advised.

    Other notes: “This is probably the best thing to drink if you’re going to drink lab liquids, but I’m professionally obligated to tell you that it’s horribly dangerous and you Will Die.”

  2. Milli-Q [water]
    Ingredients: really, really, really pure water

    Taste: 6/10
    It tastes like water, but you know how most buildings have “the good water fountain” that just tastes better? This is water from the Harvard03 it isn’t really any better than other water...but everyone still thinks it is of water fountains.

    Is this safe??: 8/10
    In reasonable quantities, probably. It doesn’t have ions, though, so it would take a lot less milli-Q water (as compared to tap water) to give you water poisoning.

    Other notes: Don’t try to make tea by heating this up in the microwave super-pure water will superheat and explode.

  3. DMEM (made with water) [cell media]
    A bottle of dark red liquid. Label says "gibco // DMEM (1x) // Dulbecco's Modified Eagle Medium" and lists ingredients.
    Ingredients: glucose, water, phenol red, salt, all 9 essential amino acids, vitamins

    Taste: 4/10
    “A really salty sports drink without much sugar”

    Is this safe??: ?/10
    “May be harmful if swallowed.” This is comfortingly vague. Again, we also can’t promise that our bottle isn’t contaminated with cancer cells, which you may feel unsure about drinking.

    Other notes: This supposedly resembles the chemical composition of blood plasma, so if you’ve ever wondered what drinking blood would be like…

  4. RPMI (made with heavy water)04 I never knew you could make media with different liquids, and now I really want to feed the cells orange-juice-media. [cell media]A gloved hand holds a bottle full of magenta liquid by the cap.
    Ingredients: glucose, heavy water (D2O), phenol red, salt, vitamins (including biotin and vitamin B12)

    Nobody has tried this media with heavy water yet, but heavy water apparently tastes sweet. This probably tastes like a sweeter version of normal RPMI.

    Is this safe??: 4/10

    If you drink a cup, it’ll probably be fine; if you drink a few more, you might feel dizzy as the fluid in your ears becomes heavier; if you drink only heavy water, Bad Things Will Probably Happen. As usual, our bottle might also have cancer cells in it.

    Other notes: Normal drinking water actually has really small amounts of heavy water! The cells I babysit also get really angry and stop growing when we put them in 50% heavy water, so I would recommend that you not anger your own cells by drinking this.

  5. 70% ethanol [alcohol]
    A hand holding a small vial. The label says "Purified ETOH".Ingredients: ethanol, water

    Taste: [redacted]/10
    I’m not 21, and the people I polled varied in how much they like the taste of alcohol.

    Is this safe??: 0/10
    Probably not — in addition to the obvious dangers of “doing science while drunk” and “alcohol poisoning”, lab ethanol sometimes has a small amount of methanol mixed in specifically to stop people from drinking it. Methanol can blind and kill you.

    Other notes: Of all the very-serious-scientists-over-21 that I polled, none of them recommended straight ethanol as their alcoholic beverage of choice.

  6. 10x Phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) [buffer]
    Ingredients: salt, water, disodium hydrogen phosphate

    Taste: 0/10
    Tastes like seawater.

    Is this safe??: 1/10
    “You’d probably throw up before you can drink enough for anything bad to happen,” but drinking really salty things is generally dangerous. High levels of sodium in your blood can be deadly.

    Other notes: This is probably more drinkable at a 1x dilution, but I have three boxes of 10x PBS under my desk right now. I also once asked if I could pop my contact lenses into some, to which my supervisor asked if I were trying to get him fired.

While we do have other liquids in the lab, they’re either strong acids and bases with a drinkability rating of “No, please don’t,” or they’re liquids that nobody has admitted to drinking yet, so I’m going to end this brief list with PBS. Responsible adults in the lab have also reminded me that all liquids in the lab are undrinkable by Environmental Health and Safety standards, but now that you have that information…


…drink responsibly!


  1. safety data sheet back to text
  2. Not a recommended source of protein back to text
  3. it isn’t really any better than other water...but everyone still thinks it is back to text
  4. I never knew you could make media with different liquids, and now I really want to feed the cells orange-juice-media. back to text