Demystifying biosafety acronyms

open book pages with lines

Our world is full of abbreviations, and UW-Madison is no exception. For instance, in the field of Biosafety, IBC and OBS are often used. Here is a brief history to differentiate between the two.

The IBC (Institutional Biosafety Committee) at UW-Madison:

In 1972, Chancellor Edwin Young established the Biological Safety Committee to address “increased use in research of biological materials that may result in inadvertent exposure of laboratory personnel and the general public to potentially dangerous infectious agents which either occur naturally or are the result of laboratory manipulations…”

Additional authority was granted in 1979 by Chancellor Irving Shain to assure compliance with the NIH Guidelines for Activities Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules and to promote biological safety for all activities which involve the use of biological materials.

The role of the IBC was further clarified in 2015 by Chancellor Rebeca Blank, charging the committee with:

  • Responsibility for oversight of research using biological materials that entails a potential risk to humans, animals, plants, or the environment.
  • Authority to:
    • Approve, require modifications to secure approval, or disapprove these proposed research activities.
    • Suspend or revoke authorization for previously approved research that is not being conducted in accordance with the approved protocol, the IBC’s requirements, federal or state laws or regulations, or institutional policies applicable to biological research.
    • Suspend or revoke authorization for previously approved research when the research or its conduct creates an unexpected serious potential threat to safety, health, or the environment.
    • Draft and implement policy and set other requirements related to the use of biological materials in research or teaching, and to conduct assessments of potential Dual Use Research of Concern.

*UW Policy UW-6076 describes the composition of the IBC (

OBS (Office of Biosafety) at UW- Madison:

The Office of Biosafety serves the IBC in an administrative role and fosters safe laboratory practices by:

  • Providing biosafety guidance to the UW-Madison research community.
  • Performing laboratory visits, consultations, and trainings.
  • Applying recommendations and ensuring compliance with regulations regarding biosafety in laboratory

Both the IBC and OBS monitor and review biological research using a Biosafety Protocol. Research at UW-Madison requires a biosafety protocol if it involves any of the following:

  • Recombinant (transgenic) or synthetic DNA/RNA organisms or materials, including human gene therapy
  • Microbes and disease-causing agents including bacteria, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa, and parasites • Large scale propagation consisting of a volume greater than 10L or more in one vessel
  • Human cells and cell culture, organs or tissues, or biological samples
  • Non-human cells and cell culture, organ or tissues, or biological samples that are infectious, potentially infectious, or recombinant
  • Animals (vertebrate and/or invertebrate) that are recombinant (transgenic), exotic, and/or grown in association with pathogens, biological toxins, and/or recombinant materials
  • Plants that are recombinant (transgenic), exotic, and/or grown in association with biological toxins, pathogenic or recombinant microbes and/or pathogenic or recombinant small animals (insects, etc.)
  • Biological Toxins (this does not include toxic chemicals or antibiotics)

Questions? Please reach out to biosafety at, Phone: 608-263-2037.

We are here to help!

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It’s Biosafety and Biosecurity Month 2023! Look out for more biosafety topics each week in October.

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Have a biosafety question? Need help? The UW-Madison Office of Biological Safety can assist you.

The UW-Madison Office of Biological Safety is a proud member of the American Biological Safety Association (ABSA).