Community Biolabs Guidelines

About these Guidelines

On June 22nd 2013 these guidelines were compiled by participants of the DIYBio EU meetup in Amsterdam. After the website went offline, the guidelines have been republished on this page.

Community Biolabs Guidelines

Since a community lab doesn’t have a dedicated biosafety officer around all the time, we compiled a list of guidelines to take care of each other’s safety together. These are guidelines really, not rules. Feel free to bend or stretch them however you like on your own risk.

Rule 0: Be curious and have fun, but use your brain and think a few steps ahead. Did you think through all potential hazards?

Take these 4 main subjects into consideration:

  1. Communications: Talk to each other.
  2. Openness: Be open and transparent on what you work on and share your experience.
  3. Lab Organization: Have a few basic organizational measured covered, so you don’t have to improvise all the time.
  4. User & Environmental Safety: Take general safety precautions

Always take some time to introduce first timers to these guidelines and introduce them to the other members of your group. Consider capturing the most important points on a pretty poster, have it printed, and hang it up in the entrance area of your lab.


Come up with a way to decide what type of projects and subjects of research are appropriate in your lab, taking ethical objections into account. This might be an “Anything goes” approach, or you may set down certain rules for suitable projects, or you can use a community vote. In any case, think about how to resolve conflict that may arise when some members are uncomfortable with a project while others want to go ahead with it.

Always ask for advice. This may include talking things over with your fellow lab members, or making use of the “Ask a biosafety expert” service, or seeking out advice and opinions from staff at your local universities.

Preferably cooperate with others in your work and avoid working in the lab on your own. It’s less fun and less safe.

Learn together and educate each other. Lab member X has spent a lot of time researching tardigrades for one of their projects? Awesome! Ask him to give a short talk or write a blog post. Lab member Y is good with electronics/programming/bioinformatics? Ask her to give a workshop or to collaborate on a project where such skills are needed.


Be transparent about what you work on. This may include making it mandatory for your lab members to keep a digital lab notebook and making it available to all lab members. Labeling anything you can get your hands on can also help transparency.

Give credit to people and organizations you borrowed stuff or knowledge from.

Commercial activities in your lab should not stand in the way of other peoples openness. This applies to questions of intellectual property as well as to the allocation of resources within the lab – materials, time, and access to lab equipment.

Reach out to the public with your stories. This can take many forms – you could set up a blog and present finished or ongoing projects to the public, or you could dedicate a day each month for a public show-and-tell, set up regular talks and workshops that are aimed at a broader audience, participate in exhibitions, collaborate with other projects and communities, contribute popsci articles to other platforms – you name it.

Document your work on an open platform. Consider setting up a Wiki for example, and encourage/require your members to document their work-in-progress as well as finished projects on there. This will help you keep track of each other’s work, identify problems and road blocks, and share lab notebooks. It will also help you generate content to share with a wider audience.

Lab organization

Label everything! This is especially true for anything hazardous or expensive, but labeling can also be a way of communicating with the other lab members. Need to put something in the incubator for two days? Label it, so others will have an easier time figuring out what it is and whom to contact if they have any questions. If you want to go real fancy, you can get a label maker that prints barcodes/QR codes and encourage your lab members to put these on their experiment’s petri dishes, flasks etc., linking them to the project’s Wiki/GitHub/YouNameIt site.

Have a place/mechanism to report whatever needs attention:

  • Report required maintenance to machines immediately
  • Report the need of consumables before they run out of stock

Have regular meetings to tackle ongoing (neglected) issues.

Respect other people’s work. Don’t just pull a plug from a running experiment or take a petri dish out of the incubator to make room for your own experiment. On the flip side, don’t hog equipment. There’s only so much room in an incubator, so don’t put things in there unlabeled, then disappear for a week because you are busy with other things, leaving your fellow lab members wondering what these petri dishes are that have been blocking the incubator for days.

Establish a lab library digitally or on paper.

Think about waste disposal. Have designated bins for different kinds of waste and make sure any new lab members understand what kind of waste goes where. For potentially hazardous chemical/biological waste, make sure that you dispose of it that is both safe and in line with your local regulations. You might want to hire a waste disposal company that picks up hazardous waste at regular intervals.Make it a rule to always leave the lab cleaner than you found it.

Think about rules/mechanisms for access to consumables. Do you want to share everything freely? Or do you want to charge a material fee based on use to cover the cost of providing it? What if a lab member orders custom primers or other custom and potentially expensive materials for one of their projects – do you want to store those separately with a “Ask lab member X for permission before use” sign? If you want to go real fancy and have lab members who enjoy electronics tinkering, you could ask them whether they would like to build you a vending machine that dispenses consumables.

Set up a way to learn about the different kinds of lab equipment you have. Have a central repository for manuals. Print up short instructions for the different pieces of equipment. Create an FAQ or troubleshooting guide for each piece of equipment where lab members can note anything interesting they learned about the device. For more specialized equipment, put a label on it that says “Ask lab member X for help if you have trouble with this device”.

User & Environmental Safety

Assume all chemicals and procedures are hazardous, before becoming reckless.

  • Don’t put things into your mouth and eyes. And prevent to inhale or apply stuff to your skin! Only use gloves when you really need to though!

Search for safer alternatives before introducing dangerous chemicals / organisms to the lab.

Pay extra attention to working with needles or other sharp objects. Dispose of them in an appropriate way!

Prevent organisms or chemicals from leaving the lab unintended at all times.

Consider locking up certain chemicals, materials or devices. This may be necessary if you want to make sure that hazardous or particularly delicate/expensive instruments and materials are not used by anyone before they have learned to handle them.

Clean up after a project is done. This includes killing off any organisms grown for this project, disposing of the hazardous waste, and of course, as always, documenting your project.

Watch each other’s back. Do intervene whenever you see something potentially dangerous happening. Don’t just watch it happen.