Difference between Viable and Non-viable Cells

A cell culture consists of both viable and non-viable cells. The type of cells can be identified through simple staining methods or cytometry techniques. Also, viable cell count is done to measure the number of living cells in the culture.

Also Read: Cells – Size, Shape and Count

Viable cells

These are live cells in cell culture. Also, the frozen intact cells (cryopreserved cells) come under this category. The viable cells can be estimated using the cell count technique. They have an intact cell membrane that excludes dyes. Hence, it can be easily differentiated in cell culture.

Non-viable Cells

These cells are not feasible to live (dead cells). They cannot develop or re-create themselves. Also, they have a permeable cell membrane. This makes staining and light emission possible in these cells.

Difference between Viable and Non-viable Cells

Viable and Non Viable Cells

Viable Cells

Non-viable Cells

They are living cells. They are non-living cells.
They can grow, divide and reproduce. They cannot grow, divide or multiply.
Their cell membrane is intact. They have a permeable cell membrane.
Staining method – Trypan Blue stain cannot pass through its membrane. Staining method – Trypan Blue can easily penetrate its membrane.
Flow Cytometry technique – They do not emit light when passed through a cytometer. Flow Cytometry technique – They can emit light when passed through a cytometer.

Also see: Tissue culture

Frequently Asked Questions


What are viability assays?

Viability assays give a more exact premise to estimate a living cell. This can be observed through the actual properties of the cells, such as motility, cell division, etc. They use markers such as ATP to look into metabolic activity. Also, stains distinguish the live cells from the dead ones. The cytometry technique is also used to determine the cell’s character.


What is a staining technique in viable cell count?

The non-viable cells turn blue with Trypan blue dye. The living cells have their cell membrane intact. Hence, they do not take up the stain. The number of living and dead cells can be easily distinguished from the culture. The ratio of living cells to a total number of cells gives the cell viability ratio.


What is flow cytometry?

Flow cytometry is a procedure that includes passing cells through a laser. When the laser passes, the fluorescent beads on the non-viable cells (due to staining) get excited and emit light. In comparison, the viable cells do not emit any light. Usually, they are suspended in a liquid medium and processed accordingly.

Also look into Differences between Gram Positive and Gram Negative bacteria

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