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Ask a biosafety officer

What requirements should I have to conduct safe and harmless experiments?


I have recently come across the subject of DIY Biology and I would like to know how safe it would be to do it alone as well as what educational requirements I should have to conduct safe and harmless experiments. I would rather get advice from an expert before I read or attempt anything that could have potentially dangerous ramifications.

Answer from a Biosafety Officer:

March 11, 2014

Because a DIY Biology is generic terminology which encompasses a broad array of work, the answer is not simple and the answer will depend on the risk associated with the work being proposed.


The risk of the work will vary depending on what you work with.  If you want to conduct “safe and harmless experiments”, you will be restricted to Biosafety Level 1 containment practices and Risk Group 1 (RG1) organisms.


We recommend that DIYBio be done with RG1 materials. RG1 organisms are defined by most guidelines as those that do not usually cause disease in healthy adults (1), and these microorganisms are often used in teaching laboratories (1).  It is important to know that although risk group 1 microorganisms do not usually cause disease in healthy adults, they can pose a risk for infants and children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals (1).  It’s very important to make sure that all of your work area surfaces are properly disinfected and separated from food preparation and living areas.  Standard microbiological practices, as described in the BMBL (1) and the ASM Guidelines (2), should be practiced to minimize the risk of opportunistic infection for you and those around you.


Some resources that will help you identify risk group 1 organisms include the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acids (3:  Appendix B:  Classification of Human Etiologic Agents on the Basis of Hazard), the ABSA Risk Group Database (4), and the Public Health Agency of Canada Pathogen Safety Data Sheets (5).


Typically, RG1 organisms can be safely handled using Biosafety Level 1 (BSL1) practices and procedures. Here is a summary of standard good laboratory practices from the CDC/NIH publication Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) (1).  Standard Good Laboratory Practices for BSL-1 and above is:

  1. Your work area should be dedicated for work with microbes.  Don’t store cultures or plates in your kitchen.  Ideally, cultures should not be stored in living areas such as bedrooms.
  2. Always wash your hands after working with microbes and before leaving your work area.
  3. Do not eat, drink, apply cosmetics, or store food or toiletries in your work area.
  4. Don’t mouth pipet.
  5. Be cautious when using needles, scalpels, and other sharp items with infectious microbes. Limit their use, if possible. Avoid bending, shearing, breaking, or recapping needles. Make sure that you dispose of these items properly – sharps containers and return programs are available at some pharmacies. Be aware that state regulations may apply to disposal of contaminated needles or sharps.
  6. Use careful work practices to avoid splashes and production of aerosols.
  7. Decontaminate your work area when you are finished working.  A simple mixture of 1 part Clorox bleach to 9 parts water is a very effective disinfectant.  Make sure that all surfaces that you want to disinfect remain wet with the diluted bleach solution for at least 5-10 Minutes.
  8. Decontaminate your cultures and plates before disposal.  Cultures should be treated with a 1:10 dilution of bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts liquid culture e.g. 10 mL bleach in 90 mL liquid culture).  The surfaces of petri dishes can be soaked in a 1:10 dilution of bleach for 2 hours before disposal.
  9. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) includes wearing an outer layer of clothing that can be sanitized or disposed (disposable lab coat, disposable gown), latex or nitrile gloves, and eye protection if splashes of microbes or chemicals may occur. Don’t wash or reuse disposable gloves.


The information provided above is general. Once you determine what you want to work with, feel free to contact us again with the specifics of what you propose to do or work with so that we can provide more specific guidance.



1.     Wilson, D., and L. Chosewood, editors.  Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL), 5th edition.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health.  2009.  Accessed 03/03/2013.

2.     American Society for Microbiology.  Draft Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories.  2012.  Accessed 03/03/2013.

3.     NIH Guidelines for Research with Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules.  March 2013.  Accessed 03/03/2013.

4.     American Biological Safety Association Risk Group Database.  Accessed 03/01/2013.

5.     Public Health Agency of Canada.  Pathogen Safety Data Sheets and Risk Assessment.  Accessed 03/03/2013.