New Reporting Program Enhances Biotech Lab Safety

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

The Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, implemented a new biological safety reporting program for its researchers in March 2013. The move is part of a national effort to increase awareness of and responsibility for safety as part of biotechnology research.

Impact/benefits: 

The program will rely on each SynBERC institution’s existing biological safety review process to provide local biosafety assessment as required. Among the steps to be taken are reporting by SynBERC researchers on the expected biosafety level of SynBERC-supported projects during the annual project proposal phase. In addition, SynBERC-supported projects are to include declarations of each project’s institutional protocol approval.

Explanation/Background: 

The new program follows guidance provided by the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC), a group established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address safety issues associated with manipulating genetic material through the use of recombinant DNA techniques. It calls for local biosafety review boards, which have both technical and non-technical representatives, to take immediate responsibility for safety associated with biotechnology research.

Two SynBERC investigators, Ron Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT and Drew Endy of Stanford University, served as ad hoc members of the RAC to make sure that the new guidelines were comprehensive.