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There are now 67 Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories under construction, in operation, or in the planning phase in the world, a significant increase from May 2021, when the Schar School’s Biodefense Graduate Program Director Gregory Koblentz and Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London began tracking them.
Their team maintains an interactive map—GlobalBioLabs.org—that allows users to learn details of BSL-4 labs, including their home nation’s safety and security policies. The work is crucial: BSL-4 is the maximum level of security for biomedical studies of pathogens, equipped with elaborate safety systems to keep the pathogens contained.
The team also provides informed policy recommendations for strengthening biorisk management nationally and internationally.
“This map provides the most comprehensive accounting of where maximum containment laboratories are located around the world,” said Koblentz. “By collating publicly available information in a systemic way, we've been able to provide insights into the distribution and capabilities of these labs.”
Only three of 26 countries with these maximum containment labs have national policies to govern “dual-use” biological research and development activities. Dual-use research refers to work that can be used for scientific purposes—or misused for hostile purposes. These activities are significant because of their potential to be reused by other states, or nonstate actors, to cause harm.
A new version of the interactive map will go live later in 2022 and includes for the first time details about BSL-3+ labs around the world. These labs are increasingly popular for conducting high-risk research, “but there is little national or international guidance about how these labs should be designed and operated,” Koblentz said.
The updated website will also have a wealth of new information about the biosafety, biosecurity, and dual-use research oversight laws in place around the world.