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New course sheds light on safe, responsible arthropod research practices

ASU health and safety specialist partners with ABSA International

Portrait of Catherine Mancini

Catherine Mancini. Photo courtesy Catherine Mancini

April 25, 2023

Catherine Mancini, a health and safety specialist in Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences, helps designs research labs that study ants, bees, mosquitos and other insects.

Alongside colleagues from ABSA International, she has released a new course titled "Arthropod Research, Containment, Biosafety and Beyond," which provides biosaftey professionals, engineers, academics and more with the tools to conduct their arthropod research safely. 

“(Mancini’s) addition to the operations team here in the School of Life Sciences has only served to benefit us all as we continue down the path of keeping the School of Life Sciences a clean, healthy, safe, more secure place, to learn, work and do research,” said Judy Swartz, manager of facilities services in the school. “(Mancini's) passion for the health and safety of the people and the world around her is readily obvious in every conversation and interaction you have with her."

Mancini was also recently honored with the Hashimoto Service Award, which recognizes and thanks individuals for contributing to ABSA International through their committee service. Mancini currently serves as a member of the ABSA Distance Learning Committee, joining in 2016.

Over the years, Mancini has developed and implemented safety regulations at ASU as a member of ABSA International, which was founded in 1984 to promote biosafety as a scientific discipline. In the U.S., ABSA provides guidelines and recommendations for university researchers and other organizations. However, over the past few years, they have shared the guidelines worldwide. 

"It is so much fun because I get to develop and facilitate courses. This committee is comprised of about a dozen biosafety and biosecurity professionals across the United States,” Mancini said.   

During 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online courses became a critical tool for training biosafety and biosecurity professionals. To fill this need, Mancini proposed the development of the ABSA arthropod course.

Arthropods are a big group of animals with a hard outer covering and jointed legs. They come in many shapes and sizes, including animals like insects, spiders, crabs, and even millipedes and centipedes. The course will help anyone who is currently designing or renovating a space or involved in or planning arthropod research. 

“Researchers do not typically receive this type of training formally and usually learn on the job. ... Making this kind of training available, especially early in the research training process, could serve as an important complement to the biosafety trainings that researchers — including those working on arthropods — are required to complete prior to working in a research lab,” Professor Nsa Dada said.  

Some topics covered in the class include guidelines and regulations researchers must follow when studying arthropods to work safely and responsibly. It also talks about how to ensure that the arthropods don’t get out and spread to places where they’re not supposed to be.

“For arthropod researchers in training, this course could also inspire interest in regulatory affairs and/or biosafety as career options,” Dada said.   

The course had its first run in February with around 60 attendees, about one-third international and two-thirds U.S. students.

“We learned two things. One, that our courses are really desirable and needed to be out there in the world. Two, that more people from different walks of life are interested in attending these classes,” Mancini said.  

“We want to branch out and continue this momentum over the next several years. Next year, we might have a course on flying insects and then on crawling insects. The sky is the limit,” Mancini said.  

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