by Jeffrey J. Byrd, St. Marys College of Maryland, St. Marys City, MD & Diane M. Hartman,Baylor University, Waco, TX
The safe handling of microorganisms in the teaching laboratory is a top priority. However, in the absence of a standard set of biosafety guidelines tailored to the teaching laboratory, individual educators and institutions have been left to develop their own plans. This has resulted in a lack of consistency, and differing levels of biosafety practices across institutions.
Influenced by the lack of clear guidelines and a recent outbreak of Salmonella infections that was traced backed to teaching laboratory exposures, the Education Board of the American Society for Microbiology charged a task force to develop a uniform set of biosafety guidelines for working with microorganisms in the teaching laboratory. These guidelines represent best practices for safely handling microbes, based on the safety requirements found in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)’s Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL). Guidelines for safely handling microbes at both biosafety level 1 (BSL1) and at biosafety level 2 (BSL2) were developed. The guidelines are brief by design for ease of use and provide educators with a clear and consistent way to safely work with microorganisms in the teaching laboratory.
ASM Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories: Building a Culture of Biosafety (webinar recording, June 2014) – Led by two members of the ASM Task Committee on Laboratory Safety, this webinar discusses the multistate outbreak of disease associated with teaching microbiology laboratories, compares and contrasts laboratory safety procedures for BSL-1 and BSL-2, and helps viewers integrate ASM’s required and recommended practices into teaching laboratories. Click the link above or the image for webinar learning outcomes, the webinar recording, and ancillary materials.
Behind the guidelines: The initial guidelines were reviewed in December 2011 by a small group of individuals including biological safety professionals, CDC personnel, and microbiology educators. Based on their comments, the guidelines were revised and sent out for further review in February 2012 through a survey of microbiology educators targeted at the ASM educator community. Approximately 1,400 individuals received a request to complete the survey and 400 individuals submitted survey results, representing a 30% response rate. Based on the survey feedback, the guidelines were revised again and presented in draft form to all attendees at the ASM Conference on Microbiology Education (ASMCUE) as well as the Division W business meeting during the ASM General Meeting in June 2012. After further revisions, a final call for input on the guidelines went out to the ASM membership in the fall of 2012.
The final version of the guidelines, along with a discussion of their development, was subsequently published in ASM’s Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education in 2013: Emmert, E. (2013). Biosafety Guidelines for Handling Microorganisms in the Teaching Laboratory: Development and Rationale. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 14(1). doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.531