BIO-TERROR: By releasing guidelines at Geneva, India has displayed its responsibility towards global biosafety

The document that specifies practices for handling hazardous biological material, recombinant nucleic acid molecules and cells, organisms and viruses was released during 2017-Meeting of States Parties of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) at Geneva, Switzerland

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New Delhi: The threat of misuse of biotechnology by unscrupulous terrorists by using it to create unwanted biological entities also known as biological warfare has never been high like the current times. Therefore, the need for national-level guidelines for each country of this world that has got potential to genetically engineer organisms was felt as early as1972 when the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was opened for all nations to join in.

A draft of the BWC, submitted by the British was opened for signature on 10 April 1972 and entered into force 26 March 1975 when twenty-two governments had deposited their instruments of ratification. Currently, there are 179 parties and 109 signatories to the convention.

In accordance with its commitment for biosafety laws followed across the world, India too has come up with its regulations and guidelines on biosafety of recombinant DNA research and biocontainment, 2017 that was released during 2017-Meeting of States Parties of the BWC at Geneva, Switzerland on 5th December 2017.

In view of the recent developments in the field of biotechnology, biosafety and  biosecurity, and experience gained while implementing the biosafety frameworks within the country, a new guideline on ‘Regulations and guidelines on biosafety of recombinant DNA research and biocontainment, 2017’ has been prepared by Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), Department of Biotechnology, New Delhi.

Adoption of the regulations and guidelines on biosafety of recombinant DNA research & biocontainment 2017 shall be binding for all public and private organizations involved in research, development and handling of GE organisms. 

As per the DBT, these guidelines have been prepared after due incorporation of views from researchers, experts, academicians, concerned Ministries/departments and other stakeholders. The document specifies practices for handling hazardous biological material, recombinant nucleic acid molecules and cells, organisms and viruses containing such molecules, in order to ensure an optimal protection of public health and of the environment. It provides clarity on competent authorities, biosafety requirements, recommendations for laboratory facilities such as facility design, biosafety equipment, personal protective equipment, risk assessment and management strategies, good laboratory practices and techniques, provisions for transboundary exchange of regulated materials, waste management etc. in 190 pages.

Expressing his delight at the finalization and release of the guidelines, Prof. K VijayRaghavan, Secretary, DBT mentioned that the regulations have been formulated through an elaborate process of consultation and is compatible with world standards. Underlining how Recombinant DNA has undergone changes over the years through gene editing, he added that they would go a long way preventing unregulated handling, exchange and conduct of research and development with regard to risk-inherent microorganisms, genetically engineered organisms or cells and products.

Adoption of this guideline shall be binding for all public and private organizations involved in research, development and handling of genetically engineered (GE) organisms (microorganisms, animals, plants, arthropods, aquatic animals, etc.) and non-GE hazardous microorganisms and products produced through exploration of such organisms.