External studies

The SECB commissions external studies and expert reports on specific topics. These studies and reports contribute to improving biosafety.

Biosafety of beneficial organisms: Potential alternative food sources for the harlequin ladybird (summary 2015, in German only): The invasive harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis is spreading at the cost of native ladybirds. One possible reason for this is that when food animals are lacking, it is also able to use plants as a source of food. Agroscope investigated this in a study supported by the SECB. The study has also been published:

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in pigs (2015, Final report in German): In the SECB’s view the increase in antibiotic resistance poses a significant danger to humans, animals and the environment. There is an urgent need for action, particularly in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine. One problem is the high prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in pigs, which has multiplied over the past four years. This study investigated the frequency of MRSA in a range of samples.

Antibiotic resistance in wastewater (2015, Summary): Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can also be found in wastewater. It is known that the proportion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in wastewater treatment plants is greater than ever before. The purification of wastewater in any case needs to be improved: from 2025, an additional purification step, such as using powdered activated carbon, will therefore be introduced in various plants. This study investigates whether powdered activated carbon has an effect on the distribution and competitiveness of resistant bacteria.

Comparative study: Fire blight control strategies in apples (2015):Fire blight poses a serious problem for apple production. A new study conducted by the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety SECB is comparing two different approaches to controlling fire blight. It is examining the effect of individual control strategies (antibiotics, pesticides, genetically-modified apples) on a series of stated protection goals.

Biological cycle and persistence of zoonotic agents (2018, Final report part II): Tularemia is an infectious disease that has been on the rise throughout Europe in recent years. It is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which is widespread across almost all of Switzerland. Animals are the main targets, but humans can also be infected. Currently there is a lack of important information on the ecology, transmission path, infection route and host spectrum of F. tularensis and other zoonotic agents. In collaboration with the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, we have commissioned a two-part study to investigate these areas.

The biosafety and ecology of Francisella tularensis (2014, Final report part I):Some results have already been published:

Viral contamination of workplaces within and outside the BSL2 area (2013, in German):  As part of this study, swab samples were taken in safety level 2 laboratories that work with viral vectors, and in the surrounding rooms. Possible routes of escape from the contained system, and any connection between hygiene rules and the staff, organisational and building situation, were investigated. The results of this sampling campaign, which was commissioned by the SECB from the Cantonal Laboratory of   Basel-Stadt, are now available. 

Final Report of the Programme for Monitoring the Impacts of Streptomycin Use in Fire Blight Control 2008-2012 (Summary, 2013): In January 2008, the antibiotic streptomycin was first authorised in Switzerland for the treatment of fire blight in orchards. Similar exceptional approvals have been granted every subsequent year until an effective alternative solution can be found. The use of streptomycin is time-limited and associated with various conditions, one of which is that it must be accompanied by a monitoring programme. The Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety (SECB) felt that, beyond the investigation of resistance development by Erwinia amylovora, the fire blight pathogen, there were further questions to be considered. The SECB therefore launched a multidisciplinary monitoring programme in cooperation with various federal agencies, research institutions, and other experts. The main goal of this project is to obtain data to permit an objective evaluation of the risks that could be associated with the use of streptomycin. The Final Report of this Programme was approved in February 2013. It can be ordered from the SECB Secretariat.

Tenacity of viruses (2012): Work with high concentrations of viruses is often carried out in laboratories. The issue of the viruses’ ability to survive outside their host cell is thus very important for biological safety. Their tenacity – i.e. their ability to survive under suboptimal conditions – must therefore be determined. The SECB has cofunded a study by the Institute of Virology and Immunoprophylaxis, to investigate the survivability of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) in solutions and in dried form on surfaces. The sensitivity of VSV to disinfectants is also being tested. The results of the study will help to increase safety in the handling of viruses in the laboratory.

A method for differentiating between DNA of live vs. dead micro-organisms (2010): In laboratories working with micro-organisms, regular investigations are conducted to monitor the safety measures adopted. Microbial contamination of equipment and surfaces is detected using wipe samples which are tested for the presence of specific DNA. In this context it is important to be able to differentiate between DNA of live vs. dead cells and organisms. The methods used until now mostly require a cultivation step. A method using propidium monoazide (PMA), which only permeates dead cells, is described in the literature. The Cantonal Laboratory of Basel-Stadt, with financial support from the SECB, has adapted this method to Staphylococcus aureus as a model organism.

Detection method for Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) in soil (2009): The Bolle di Magadino region in the canton of Ticino is regularly flooded. These conditions favour the apparition of mosquitoes (Aedes vexans and Aedes sticticus). The region is therefore regularly treated with Vectobac, an insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) as active ingredient, a bacteria that produces toxins lethal for mosquitoes. The SECB has given its consent to the use of Vectobac, provided it be accompanied by long-term monitoring. With financial support from the SECB, the cantonal microbiology institute of Bellinzona (Istituto Cantonale di Microbiologia) has now developed a fast and specific method for the detection and quantification of Bti in soil.

Ecological impacts of genetically modified crops (2006) (pdf): We can now look back on 10 years of experience worldwide in the cultivation of genetically modified crops. The SECB commissioned the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture, Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon, to summarize and discuss the scientific data on the possible ecological impact of genetically modified crops, published in peer-reviewed journals. The study focuses on insect-resistant maize and herbicide-tolerant varieties of soybean and oilseed rape. It primarily reflects the authors' own opinions.

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Last edition: 20.09.2018

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Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety (SECB)
Tel.: +41 (0)58 463 03 55
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