Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 8.0: Public Reaction Case Study
Topic: History History of Biosafety

Laboratory Biosafety

Scientists have been responsible for the development of the majority of regulations that govern biological research that have been implemented over the past 100 years. Biosafety standards, for example, were originally adopted by researchers as a means to protect themselves, and have expanded to also protect the public.

Most recorded cases of laboratory-acquired infections did not result from a clear incident and as a result have been attributed to accidental exposure to aerosol. As a result, biological agents are now classified by their hazard level and the protocols used to protect researchers (ie. No mouth pipetteing, use of biosafety cabinets). These efforts resulted in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) publication in 1984 of the 1st Edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) handbook. The BMBL is periodically updated to reflect new standards and the 5th Edition was published in 2007.

Previous editions of the BMBL have been revised to take into account concerns about medical waste disposal and the re-emergence of tuberculosis infections, including the increased incidence of multi-drug-resistant strains. The most recent update of the BMBL includes several new sections, reflecting the shift in the way biological research is viewed and conducted since the anthrax letters of 2001. A new section on laboratory biosecurity was added to the 5th Edition and sections on risks assessment, biological toxins and agricultural pathogens were expanded. An attempt was also made to harmonize BMBL recommendations with regulations issued by other agencies and to clarify the language and intent of the information.

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