Empirical approaches have guided the development of bacterial cultures. The availability of sequenced genomes now provides opportunities to define culture media for growth of fastidious pathogens with computer modelling of metabolic networks. A key issue is the possibility of growing host-dependent bacteria in cell-free conditions. The sequenced Tropheryma whipplei genome was analysed to identify specific metabolic deficiencies. We used this information to design a comprehensive medium that allowed three established T whipplei strains from culture with human cells and one new strain from a clinical sample to grow axenically. Genomic information can, therefore, provide sufficient clues for designing axenic media for fastidious and uncultured pathogens.