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Biosafety Committee

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get more information about what is regulated?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has published the NIH Guidelines which describes regulated experiments, requirements and exemptions.

What is an IBC?

An IBC is referred to as an Institutional Biosafety Committee and this group is tasked with evaluating research to ensure that it is performed in a safe manner and in conformance with any applicable regulatory requirements. Depending on the scope of work proposed by the researcher, unique precautions may be required such as security procedures, special protective equipment etc. Typically an IBC will only evaluate protocols or procedures for their institution.

I plan on working with Recombinant DNA. What experiments are exempt?

As stated in Section III-F of the NIH Guidelines, experiments are exempt when they involve recombinant DNA that is:

  • Not in organisms and viruses;
  • Entirely DNA segments from a single nonchromosomal or viral DNA source;
  • Entirely from a prokaryotic host including its indigenous plasmids or viruses when propagated only in that host or when transferred to another host by well established physiological means;
  • Entirely from a eukaryotic host including its chloroplasts, mitochondria, or plasmids when propagated only in that host or a closely related strain of the same species,
  • Entirely segments from different species that exchange DNA by known physiological processes, through one or more may be a synthetic; see Appendix A of the NIH Guidelines; or
  • Not a significant risk to health or the environment as determined by the NIH Director, with advice from the RAC and public comment; See Appendix C of the NIH Guidelines for a detailed listing;

Unless these experiments also involve:

  • The deliberate transfer of a drug resistance trait to microorganisms that are not known to acquire the trait naturally, if such acquisition could compromise the use of the drug to control disease agents in humans, veterinary medicine or agriculture [Section III-A];
  • Deliberate formation of recombinant DNA containing genes for the biosynthesis of toxin molecules lethal for vertebrates at an LD50 of less than 100 nanograms per kilogram of body weight [Section III-B]; or
  • The deliberate transfer of recombinant DNA, or DNA or RNA derived from recombinant DNA into one or more human research subjects [Section III-C].

Details on certain other experiments that may be exempt, as well as exceptions, may be found in Appendix C of the NIH Guidelines.

Can the IBC or PI determine an exemption?

Section III-F-6 of the NIH Guidelines lists categories experiments that do not present a significant risk to health of the environment and are therefore exempt. The determination of the types of experiments that fall into this category is made by the NIH Director with the advice of the RAC, following appropriate notice and opportunity for public comment. PI's and IBC's cannot make the determination that a class of experiments other than the ones listed below poses no significant risk.

The following classes of experiments are exempt under Section III-F-6:

  • Recombinant DNA in tissue culture [Appendix C-I]
  • Escherichia coli K-12 host-vector systems [Appendix C-II]
  • Saccharomyces host-vector systems [Appendix C-III]
  • Bacillus subtilis or Bacillus licheniformis host-vector systems [Appendix C-IV]
  • Extrachromosomal elements of gram positive organisms [Appendix C-V]
  • The purchase or transfer of transgenic rodents [Appendix C-VI]

A full description of these experiments with exceptions can be found in Appendix C of the NIH Guidelines.

How do I know if I am working with host-vector systems that are exempt?

Only certain experiments that use E.coli K12, Saccharomyces, Bacillus subtilis or Bacillus licheniformis host-vector systems are specifically exempted form NIH Guidelines (see Appendix C-II). If you are obtaining a host-vector system from a vendor, genotype information may be available and permit determination of the strain from which your host is derived.

Are any derivatives or products of Genetically Engineered Organisms (GMO) regulated?

No, proteins for example are produced genetically from DNA but they are not subject to the NIH Guidelines. Any biological material such as proteins, tissues or other materials may still represent workplace hazards for harboring disease causing agents or causing infection if ingested. For more information on specific hazards, you can contact EH&S and indicate what derivitive you plan to use.

Are certain kinds of human gene transfer trials exempt from NIH Requirements?

No, all trials involving the deliberate transfer of recombinant DNA, or DNA or RNA derived from recombinant DNA, into one or more human research participants are subject to NIH Guidelines. Appendix M-VI-A of the NIH Guidelines exempts certain types of vaccine trials from the requirements for submission of the protocol to NIH OBA, RAC review, and subsequent reporting (Appendix M-I) Specifically, this exemption applies to "human studies in which induction or enhancement of an immune response to a vector-encoded microbial immunogen is the major goal, such an immune response has be demonstrated in model systems, and the persistence of the vector-encoded immunogen is not expected." Trials with these characteristics do not have to be registered with NIH OBA or undergo RAC review, but can be submitted on a voluntary basis, particularly if the investigator believes that a trial presents scientific, safety, or ethical concerns that would benefit from RAC review and public discussion. Investigators that submit trials voluntarily will be expected to comply with all aspects of the protocol review and reporting requirements. OBA encourages investigators and institutional review bodies to contact for assistance in determining whether this exemption applies to a particular trial.

* This does not exempt certain vaccine trials from IBC oversight and approval before participants are enrolled.

An exempt experiment must only fall into either Section III-F, III-D or III-E?

No, for an experiment to be considered exempt, it must be in both III-F and either III-D or III-E. Another way to express this is if an experiment falls into III-D or III-E, it must also fall into Section III-F to be considered exempt.

Example: Staphylococcus aureus (a Risk Group 2 bacterium) contains a recombinant plasmid. The plasmid is indigenous to S. Aureus, was created in vitro and contains only DNA from S. aureus (i.e. the DNA inserted into the plasmid was S. aureus DNA).

Rationale: The introduction of recombinant DNA into Risk Group 2 agents is usually covered under Section III-D-1-a. However, because the experiments are only performed in the S. aureus strain, this work would fall under III-F-3 (experiments that consists entirely of DNA from a prokaryotic host including its indigenous plasmids when propagated only in that host or a loosely related strain of the same species). Thus the experiment falls into both Sections III-D and III-F and is exempt, due to the above note from the requirements of the NIH Guidelines for IBC review and approval.

It should be noted that only experiments covered by both III-D or III-E and III-F can be exempted. If an experiment falls into Section III-A, III-B or III-C and any one of the other sections, then the rules pertaining to Sections III-A, III-B or III-C must be followed.


Is an rDNA derived cell line exempt for all future experiments with that cell line?

No, although Appendix C-1 does exempt the use of recombinant DNA (rDNA) in tissue culture, there are exemptions to this exemption. Existing tissue culture cell lines created by the introduction of recombinant DNA are exempt from the NIH Guidelines unless the cell line:

    • was modified using DNA from Risk Group 3 or 4 agents, or from restricted agents. [Section III-D]
    • contains a toxin with an LD50 of less than 100 ng/kg body weight. [Section III-B-1]
    • contains viral DNA in a quantity exceeding 50% of any viral genome. [Appendix C-1]
    • is used in conjunction with defective viruses in the presence of a helper virus. [Section III-D-3]
    • is used in an experiment involving the deliberate transfer of the cell line into humans. [Section III-C-1]
    • is grown in a volume exceeding 10 liters of culture. [Section III-D-6]