Environmental, Health and Safety Services

Research Using Microorganisms/Biological Agents and Materials (bacteria, viruses, viral vectors, parasites)

Non-pathogenic microorganisms or random environmental isolates that have not been/will not be genetically manipulated

  • Research involving these organisms typically requires no institutional oversight.
  • If an environmental study randomly yields isolates of pathogenic or suspected pathogenic organisms:
    • If you need to identify such isolates, do so in a biosafety cabinet using BSL-2 practices.
    • Handle identified pathogens using the appropriate containment, work practices, safety equipment and PPE that is prescribed by the organism's biosafety level.
    • If a Risk Group 3 or select agent is isolated and identified, contact the University Biosafety Officer immediately.
    • If your work will extend beyond isolation and identification of Risk Group 2 or 3 microbial flora, (such as further culturing or manipulation of isolates) contact the IBC.

Biohazardous microorganisms/ agents/ materials

  • VT's Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) is the oversight body that approves and monitors research and teaching protocols involving microorganisms that are potentially pathogenic/ pathogenic for humans, animals and plants (Risk Group 1-3), as well as the following:
    • Genetically engineered organisms/microorganisms, including animal or plant pathogens and products, and veterinary biologics
    • Select agents and toxins
    • Infected animals/ animal tissues
    • Prions
  • Protocols for research projects involving these materials must be submitted to the IBC for initial approval, and thereafter, for annual review and three-year renewal.
  • People must complete IBC-required training before beginning research work, and they must stay current with IBC-required training thereafter.
  • See table below for more details:
Research ScopeVT Entity That Gives Approval & Oversees Compliance
Involving environmental and/or non-pathogenic agents that are not genetically manipulated/ modifiedNo institutional oversight needed
Involving pathogenic/ potentially pathogenic and/ or genetically modified microorganisms, viral vectors or other potentially infectious materialsIBC
Involving biological products derived from Risk Group 2 or Risk Group 3 microorganismsIBC
Involving clinical/ medical diagnostic specimens that are used in research and known (or reasonably expected) to contain pathogenic microorganisms/agentsIBC
Involving the culture of more than 10 liters of a biological agentIBC
Involving animals in a research setting or in the wild (incl. cages/bedding, nests/dens, waste products, etc.) where there is a risk of exposure to infectious agents for humans and/or animalsIBC, IACUC
Involving research animals experimentally infected with infectious agentsIBC, IACUC
Involving arthropod vector OR non-vector species
  • infected with biohazardous agents
  • infected with genetically modified biological agents or genetically manipulated
Arthropod Containment Guidelines
Teaching labs utilizing pathogenic/ potentially pathogenic and/ or genetically modified microorganisms, viral vectors or other potentially infectious materialsIBC
American Society of Microbiology: Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories

Appendix to the Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories
Primary Hazards In Research Using Microorganisms/Biological Agents & Materials Safety Considerations In Research Using Microorganisms/Biological Agents & Materials
Exposure to infectious agents from mucous membrane exposure (hand-to-face contact), from inhalation of an aerosol, or from accidental injury or non-intact skin contact with infectious material.Reduce or eliminate the risk to health and safety of the people working with this material, as well as others who could be indirectly exposed by:
  • Using primary containment (biosafety cabinet).
  • Avoiding inhalation risks and production of aerosols in procedures; use aerosol-producing equipment within containment.
  • Utilizing sharps with safety features and disposing of sharps appropriately.
  • Using good work practices and appropriate PPE.
Loss of containment and release of infectious agents of infectious agents/materials into the environment. Mitigate risk of release by following Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories designated Biosafety Level criteria (containment equipment and practices, engineering controls, PPE, and facilities features).

Biosafety Levels (BSL) for Microbiological Research

  • See 'Biosafety Levels' in this website's topic list.

Shipping of Biological Material

  • See 'Shipment of Biological Material' in this website's topics list.

Guidance and Further Information:

BMBL, 5th Ed.
EHS Biosafety Group