Biological hazards and genetic modification

Our work, teaching and scientific research involves the use of physical agents that have the potential to cause disease or injury to staff and students. Physical agents may also harm and damage the environment.

Biological hazards

The term biological agent is defined under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Work Regulations (COSHH) as “a microorganism, cell culture or human endoparasite, whether or not genetically modified, which may cause infection, allergy, toxicity or otherwise create a hazard to human health.”  Biological agents include bacteria, viruses, fungi, agents which cause Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), microscopic endoparasites and microscopic forms of larger endoparasites. 

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) categorises biological agents that are human pathogens and publishes these in the Approved List of Biological Agents (.pdf).

Biological agents are classified into four Hazard Groups, based on their ability to infect healthy humans:

Hazard group Description
1 Unlikely to cause human disease
2 Can cause human disease and may be a hazard to employees; it is unlikely to spread to the community and there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available.
3 Can cause severe human disease and may be a serious hazard to employees; it may spread to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available.
4 Causes severe human disease and is a serious hazard to employees; it is likely to spread to the community and there is usually no effective prophylaxis or treatment available.

The University does not have the facilities to work with Hazard Group 3 and 4 biological agents.

Work with biological agents must have a risk assessment and where appropriate, will need to be approved by the Biological Hazards and Genetic Modification Safety Committee (BHGMSC). 

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Genetic modification is defined as any alteration of the genetic material (DNA or RNA) of an organism using a method that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. As a result of this modification, a novel product will be formed that may have an altered characteristic to that of the original organism.  This is known as a genetically modified organism (GMO).  GMOs which are plants or animals are called larger GMOs (LGMOs); and genetically modified micro-organisms (such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi) are called genetically modified micro-organisms (GMMs).  

Work with GMOs and GMMs at the University is covered by the  Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2014. “Contained Use” covers any activity in which organisms are genetically modified, or in which GMOs are cultured, stored, transported, destroyed, disposed of or used in any other way and for which physical, chemical or biological barriers, or any combination of such barriers, are used to limit their contact with people and the environment. 

Work with genetically modified organisms must have a risk assessment and where appropriate, will need to be approved by the Biological Hazards and Genetic Modification Safety Committee (BHGMSC).

University's Biological Hazards and Genetic Modification Safety Committee

The University's Biological Hazards and Genetic Modification Safety Committee (BHGMSC) keep under review arrangements for the possession and use of genetically modified organisms and hazardous biological agents or materials and ensure that arrangements incorporate all appropriate statutory requirements.

To examine risk assessments and other relevant documentation for all projects involving genetic modification (GM) work the use of biological agents any proposed use of specified animal pathogens the use of plants, plant products and plant pests requiring a licence or other permission the use of pathogens and toxins subject to Schedule 5 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. To monitor and report, as appropriate, to Health & Safety Group on compliance with statutory and University requirements. To provide reports, give advice and make recommendations to and on behalf of the Health & Safety Group on any matter involving biosafety for the possession, use and control/containment of GMOs and other hazardous biological agents/materials.

Contact us
Contact us
Health and Safety Advisory Service
Telephone: 01206 872944