The flagellated protozoan Giardia lamblia has been grown only in highly complex media under reduced oxygen tension. Therefore, the organic and physiological requirements for in vitro attachment and short-term (12-h) survival of this organism were determined. In defined maintenance media, a thiol reducing agent (e.g., cysteine) was absolutely required for attachment and survival of this aerotolerant anaerobe. The crude bovine serum Cohn III fraction greatly stimulated attachment and survival. Attachment was decreased at a reduced temperature (24 degrees C as compared with 35.5 degrees C) and absent at 12 degrees C or below. Attachment and survival were strongly dependent upon pH and ionic strength, with optima at pH 6.85 to 7.0 and 200 to 300 mosmol/kg. Sodium chloride was better tolerated than KC1. Reduction of Ca2+ and Mg2+ to below 10(-8) M did not significantly affect attachment.