Direct exposure to infectious agents in an enclosed laboratory can cause infections, which may be fatal in some cases. Biosafety is a protection measure adopted by scientists to counter the outcome of accidental infections in a laboratory. The adequate safety measures observed not only protect the scientist themselves but also the general public in cases of severe uncontrollable outbreaks.
The severity of an infection outbreak may range from mild or severe depending on the microorganisms under study. Biosafety levels are designed to contain the outbreak of infections. Appropriate action may involve implementation of one or more of the four levels of biosafety protection.
Biosafety Level 3
This safety level is often implemented in laboratories that are reserved for examining rare microbes such as tuberculosis, typhus, bubonic plague, or the Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Nevertheless, such laboratories may also be designated as research centers for viruses like the H5N1 virus, avian flu virus, and the flu virus.
Features of a Biosafety Level 3 Lab
Biosafety Level 3 labs were designed with the risk of the highly infectious and deadly nature of the microbes under study in these labs in mind. These state-of-the-art laboratories are designed to prevent the microbes under study from escaping outside with airtight and hermetically sealed enclosures.
Lab workers dress in special lab suits that include gloves and facial protective gear. Despite adequate training to handle microorganisms, lab workers must work under a scientist or a trained technician whose role may include biosafety consulting. The workstations of workers in a level 3 laboratories are designed to offer them extra protection from accidental exposure.
U.S. Biosafety Level 3 labs
Nearly half of all BSL-3 labs located in the United States are associated with universities. Notable among them include the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
Biosafety is related to a wide range of fields including ecology, agriculture, medicine, chemistry, exobiology, and synthetic biology. Although the term is mostly associated with the agricultural and medical field, many experts believe that its scope should be expanded to include post-genetic threats, artificial life forms, robotics, and anything that would have direct impact on the natural food chain.
Generally, biosafety involves the application of certain precautionary principles and focus on the biological nature of threatened organisms. The increased need to address the complex issues involved in biosafety have led to the development of a new field known as biosecurity.