American Society for Microbiology Letter on CDC/NIH lapses in biosafety

Just got this email letter from the American Society for Microbiology and I thought it would be useful and important to share.  Please – everyone out there doing work involving potential harmful microbes – redouble your efforts to do that work as safely as possible.  And also consider careful the risk – benefit balance for the work.

Dear Colleague:

The recent events at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which are documented in the report below, reveal significant lapses in biosafety, biosecurity, oversight and compliance with the Select Agents and Toxins regulations.  At every level, in teaching, research, and diagnostic laboratories, microbiologists must take all steps possible to guarantee biosafety, to protect themselves, their co-workers, and the broader public from microorganisms that can cause disease.  Microbiologists who work with dangerous pathogens have a responsibility to understand and comply with biosafety and biosecurity regulations.  As such, ASM members must ensure that they are acting with the highest level of responsibility and accountability in their laboratories.

Microbiologists engage in activities that are essential to detect, respond to and prevent infectious diseases. This work must be conducted as safely as possible. Toward that end, we urge microbiologists to review their laboratory procedures and to ensure that they are compliant with biosafety regulations and best practices. Microbiologists and institutions should regularly inventory all areas of storage to maintain an accurate and up-to-date inventory of materials to be certain there are no unaccounted for infectious agents and toxins.  Identified lapses in biosafety and biosecurity must be reported promptly to the appropriate institutional authorities. Public health and safety are of the utmost importance and we have a professional responsibility to maintain the public trust.  

The following is a link to the CDC’s July 11 Report on the Potential Exposure to Anthrax

Timothy J. Donohue, Ph.D.
President, ASM

Ronald M. Atlas, Ph.D.
Chair, Public and Scientific
Affairs Board


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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.