Microbiology for Biotechnology - Biotechnology Education


Feb 12, 2013 (5 years and 5 months ago)


Microbiology for Biotechnology
Adapted from Biotech Babble With Permission
icrobiology provides a rich source
of learning experiences and valuable
laboratory techniques– some of which
are required to explore certain bio-
technology contexts. In addition to
conventional baking
and brewing activi-
ties and contemporary bacterial trans-
formation, there are many excellent
contextual applications of microbiology
in biotechnology. Students can engage
with activities where they: screen for
simulated infectious diseases; assess
simulated bio-warfare agents; under-
take bacterial cloning; bioremediate
polluted environmental samples and
analyse water samples using Chro-
mogenic media.

However, a lack of familiarity with
regulations and guidelines places some
educators and technical staff in a less
than enviable position...

There is an ‘inconvenient truth’ that has
an impact on an educators ability to
undertake certain microbiology activi-
ties in the laboratory. That document is
Australian/New Zealand Standard™
AS/NZS 2243.3:2002 (Safety in labora-
tories, Part 3: Microbiological aspects
and containment facilities). Available
from www.standards.org.au

This document is very clear regarding
what constitutes microbiology; what
physical environment should be pro-
vided; and what should/ should not
occur in schools to ensure duty of care
obligations to the students, an em-
ployee’s colleagues and the environ-

Microorganisms are defined as proto-
zoa, fungi, free-living bacteria, cell-
dependent bacteria and viruses. Thus,
any activities undertaken with any of
these organisms should comply with
the Standard. Unfortunately, many
schools are either not aware of the
existence of the Standard or choose to
ignore it due its perceived ‘nuisance

The Standard should not be considered
as disabling but rather enabling. It guides
individuals in the selection of appropri-
ate learning experiences and in prepar-
ing Standard Operating Procedures.

Many of the activities that are currently
undertaken in schools simply require
the development of modified Standard
Operating Procedures to enable them
to comply with the Standard. However,
only microorganisms from Risk Group
1 (unlikely to cause human, plant or
animal disease) are suitable for use in
school laboratories. A range of suitable
organisms (bacteria, protozoa, algae
and slime mould) are available in a vari-
ety of culture formats from suppliers.

The collection/ isolation of microorgan-
isms or material likely to contain mi-
croorganisms that may be associated
with animal, plant or human disease of
moderate severity (Risk Group 2 mi-
croorganisms) should not be under-
taken if one wishes to comply with the

Thus, collecting and culturing samples
from a student’s person, toilets, door-
knobs etc does not comply with the
content of the Standard– you cannot
guarantee the collection of only Risk
Group 1 organisms.

In addition, compliance with the Stan-
dard requires that all microbiology
activities (including bread baking and
brewing) are undertaken in a PC1 facil-
ity. Most schools would either already
have suitable facilities or can easily
achieve them. PC1 facilities are self

Schools who undertake bacterial
transformation learning experiences
have the additional consideration of
ensuring that they comply with The
Office of the Gene Technology Regu-
lator (OGTR) - Handbook on the
Regulation of Gene Technology in
Australia. Available from www.

Over time, there has been much con-
cern expressed about the current
microbiology work practices in
schools. It has been pointed out that
there are adverse events ’waiting to
happen’, and when they do, ignorance
of the guidelines or any relevant legis-
lation is no defence for either the
person(s) in breach or for any individ-
ual or organization who advocates
particular laboratory learning experi-
ences without sound counsel…

Individuals who require further infor-
mation can request a free guiding
document f r om bi ot echnol -
ogy@ozemail.com.au It discusses as-
pects such as safety considerations,
work practices and how to comply
with PC1.