The HSE-gateway

Genetically modified microorganisms (GMOs)

Genetically modified microorganisms (GMOs) are microorganisms whose genetic composition has been altered using gene or cell technology.


GMOs do not include organisms where the genetic composition has been altered using conventional (traditional) crossing or by mutagenesis. (Mutagenesis involves the use of chemicals or irradiation to produce changes in DNA.)

In principle, all organisms can be genetically modified, and the methods used to introduce the desired DNA will vary from one species to another. Microorganisms are easy to cultivate in large quantities and are relatively easy to modify genetically. Genetically modified bacteria are used for research and for manufacturing genes, gene fragments, vitamins and proteins. GMOs also form part of some industrial processes, for example in the food and drink industry.

For more information, please see the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board’s web pages (NO).

Obligation to report

An activity is categorised in one of four classes, each with an associated containment level:

  • Class 1. Activities involving no risk, or only an insignificant risk, with containment level 1.
  • Class 2. Activities involving a low risk, with containment level 2.
  • Class 3. Activities involving a moderate risk, with containment level 3.
  • Class 4. Activities involving a high risk, with containment level 4.

Applications for GMO approval of laboratories requiring containment levels 1 and 2 must be made no later than 45 days before the start of work. Applications for GMO approval of laboratories requiring containment levels 3 and 4 must be made no later than 90 days before the start of work. The approval body is the Norwegian Directorate of Health.


Releases or other accidents while using GMOs:


Waste must be autoclaved and disposed of as residual waste if the waste has been rendered harmless.Otherwise, it must be sent as problematic waste.If the waste contains hazardous chemicals, it must be determined in each individual case whether it should be disposed of as hazardous waste or problem waste. The waste must be packaged thoroughly and labelled with the infection risk group.

Genetically modified microorganisms must be inactivated before disposal. Where antibiotic resistance genes are used, these must be processed such that the genes are destroyed – for example, by fragmentation.

  • Chemical disinfection (70% ethanol, chlorine, other detergents)
  • Autoclaving
  • Dry heat sterilisation (keep in heat cabinet at 190°C for 6 hours)

UV light irradiation of workbenches (NB! Ventilate the room before use.)

Wastes containing antibiotics must be treated differently depending on their stability. It is very important to prevent antibiotics from entering the environment. Easily degradable antibiotics like Ampicillin, Penicillin, Erythromycin, Tetracycline, etc. can be destroyed / inactivated by autoclaving. Other antibiotics like Kanamycin, etc. can withstand heat treatment and should be sent solely for combustion as problematic waste. If you are unsure how to dispose of the antibiotic you are using, please contact the HSE-section


Relevant links:

Regulations relating to the closed use of GMOs (NO)

The Norwegian Gene Technology Act (NO)