As a biotechnologist who is always facing chemical and biological threats and risks, its important to understand risks and how to manage it.

You will be working with live organisms in many biotechnology labs, so it is important to be able to assess any biological hazards that they may pose and to treat them accordingly. In general, a live organism is considered a biological hazard if its release into the environment could have an effect on the health of the environment in general or humans in particular. This includes known pathogens to humans, plants, or animals, as well as benign organisms containing recombinant DNA that could render the recombinant host dangerous. In fact, the recombinant DNA itself should be treated as a biosafety hazard, since it is usually inserted into a vector that could transform organisms in the environment if released. Similarly, tissue cultures of human or animal cells should be treated as a biohazard: while they would not survive if released into the environment, they contain recombinant DNA.

The routes of exposure to infectious agents are the same as those of hazardous chemicals: inhalation, contact with eyes and skin, ingestion, and injection. The same general precautions should be taken in handling biological hazards as the guidelines above for handling chemical hazards, especially toxic ones. Here are some general practices to maximize biological safety:

  • Limit access to the lab at the discretion of the lab director, and adequately train all lab personnel.

  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times, and keep all PPE inside the lab.

  • Wash hands after handling viable materials and animals, after removing gloves and before leaving the lab.

  • Always remove gloves before touching phones, doorknobs, light switches, etc.

  • Avoid touching your face with your hands or gloves.

  • Keep personal items such as coats and book bags out of the lab or in a designated work area.

  • No mouth pipetting; use mechanical pipetting devices.

  • Minimize splashes and aerosol production.

  • Disinfect work surfaces to decontaminate after a spill and after each work session.

  • Disinfect or decontaminate glassware before washing.

  • Decontaminate all regulated waste before disposal by an approved method, usually by autoclaving.

  • Have an insect and rodent control program in effect.

  • Use a laminar flow biological safety cabinet when available.

Seventy percent of recorded laboratory-acquired infections are due to inhalation of infectious particles, so special precautions should be taken to avoid producing aerosols when working with pathogens. While performing activities that mechanically disturb a liquid or powder, the biotechnologist should make the following adjustments.

Activity Adjustment

  • Shaking or mixing liquids mix only in closed containers

  • Pouring liquids pour liquids slowly

  • Pipetting liquids use only cotton plugged pipets

  • Removing a cap from a tube point tubes away when opening

  • Breaking cells by sonication in the open sonicate in closed containers

  • Removing a stopper or cotton plug from a culture bottle remove slowly

  • Centrifuging samples use tubes with screw cap lids

  • Probing a culture with a hot loop cool loop first

Disinfectants such as bleach and ethanol are used extensively to decontaminate glassware and work areas, and it is important to realize that the effectiveness of disinfectants depends on the type of living microorganisms you are encountering:

Resistance Level Type of Organism Examples

Least resistant hydrophobic and/or medium sized viruses HIV

Herpes simplex

Hepatitis B

Slightly resistant bacteria E. coli

S. aureus

Medium resistance fungi Candida species



Highly resistant hydrophilic or small viruses rhinovirus

Polio virus

Mycobacteria M. tuberculosis

Most resistant spores B. subtilis spores

Clostridium species

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