BSL-3 Research
Biological Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) Research

All work requiring Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) containment must be submitted to the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) for review and approval prior to initiation of studies. 

The 5th edition of Biosafety in Microbiological & Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) defines Biological Safety Level 3 as applicable to clinical, diagnostic, teaching, research, or production facilities where work is performed with indigenous or exotic agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal disease through the inhalation route of exposure. Laboratory personnel must receive specific training in handling pathogenic and potentially lethal agents, and must be supervised by scientists competent in handling infectious agents and associated procedures.

Working at Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3)

BSL-3 laboratory facilities ensure safe working conditions for researchers carrying out studies requiring stringent levels of biological containment.

Work with agents or materials at BSL-3 requires registration, approvals, and training beyond that required for other basic research at Penn as set forth by federal regulations, CDC/NIH guidelines, and Penn policy.

The IBC is responsible for approving all BSL-3 research proposals and for granting access to users based upon prior proficiency and training. A BSL-3 Biosafety Manual describing all procedures that must be followed by researchers carrying out projects in the BSL-3 facility is made available during training.

Request for Access to BSL-3 Laboratories

Unrestricted access to BSL-3 laboratories requires registration, approvals and training. Please submit a complete application consisting of all of the documentation detailed on the checklist available below. All applications must be reviewed and approved by the IBC before training and proficiency testing is initiated. Request for access must be submitted and signed by the Principal Investigator.

Application Documents for Access to BSL-3 Laboratories:

          (1) Instructions for Completing Access Request

          (2) Form I. Required Documentation Checklist

          (3) Form II. BSL-3 Access Request

          (4) Form III. BSL-3 Agent Registration

          (5) Form IV. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Outline


Arthropod Containment

The use of arthropods which are intentional carriers of pathogens presents unique containment challenges for researchers. The Arthropod Containment Guidelines (ACG), developed in part by members of the American Committee on Medical Entomology (ACME) of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), recommends biosafety measures specific for arthropods of public health importance. These guidelines address risk assessment, practices, safety equipment, and facility design to provide levels of containment for arthropod research in the laboratory. 

Arthropod Containment Guidelines (pdf)

Studies Involving Arthropods Infected with Zika Virus

From the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): "In areas where the Zika virus has not been established in the mosquito population, in order to reduce the risk of environmental establishment, Arthropod Containment Level 3 (ACL-3) should be used for all work with live, infected arthropods." 

Disposal of Transgenic Arthropods 

To comply with the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acids, the IBC set the Transgenic Arthropod Containment and Disposal Standard to prevent the accidental release of transgenic arthropods into the environment. All transgenic arthropods, including but not limited to Drosophila melanogaster (Common Fruit Fly), must never be discarded in the regular trash or down the drain. Instead, after euthanasia, old stocks and vials must be disposed of as biohazardous waste. Flies caught in ethanol and/or mineral oil must be disposed of as chemical waste and picked-up by Penn's Chemical Waste Team. Any deviation of this disposal standard must be reviewed and approved by the IBC. Specific guidance will be provided to labs based on school and lab location.

Transgenic Arthropod Containment and Disposal Standard

Disposal of Transgenic Animals Fact Sheet


Plant Containment

Transgenic Plants

Research involving genetically modified plants and plant-associated microorganisms and small animals must comply with the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules. Appendix P of the NIH Guidelines specifies physical and biological containment conditions and practices suitable for this research. 

Work involving the generation and/or use of transgenic plants must be reviewed and approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).


Permits are required for the importation into the U.S. and transit through the U.S. of regulated plants and plant products for consumption or propagation.

APHIS Plant and Plant Product Permits

Various plant pathogens (microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, phytoplasmas, viruses; small animals (such as nematodes, arthropods) that are injurious or cause disease in plants are subject to federal and international regulations. Permits are required for the importation, transit, domestic movement and environmental release of Organisms that impact plants, and the importation and transit of Plants and Plant Products

Plant Health Import Permits