Viral Vectors for Gene Transfer

Viral vectors are popular research tools in biological sciences and other fields. They are customizable, allowing for research with different genes of interest in a variety of in vitro and in vivo applications. Viral vectors are used to deliver genes to cells. They can either add a gene (knock-in) to study the function of a particular gene or to delete a gene (knock-down) to study the effects of gene deletion or reduction.

All work with viral vectors is subject to the NIH Guidelines for Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acids, and as such, all work with viral vectors must be approved at a convened Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) meeting. EH&S Biological Safety along with the IBC will perform a risk assessment for the vector system and gene inserts. If you wish to add work with viral vectors, see Biological Research Approval for more information. The most commonly used viral vectors are described here, and the table below lists the biosafety levels required at the University of Washington.

Biosafety Levels for Viral Vectors

The following table lists the biosafety levels (BSLs) for viral vector systems with and without oncogenic inserts. For RCV testing information, refer to specific information for each vector. Click on the table to access the PDF.

image of table of viral vector biosafety levels

Adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors

Adenoviral vectors

Gammaretroviral vectors

Lentiviral vectors

What you need to know

  • Biological Use Authorization (BUA) is required for all research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acids (DNA/RNA).
  • Submit a BUA application or BUA change application to initiate EH&S and IBC review for work with viral vectors.
  • Use of viral vectors in animals requires IACUC approval.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For most of the commonly used viral vectors, a freshly prepared 1:10 dilution of household bleach is a highly effective disinfectant. You can also choose a disinfectant from Lists C, D or E of the Selected EPA-Registered Disinfectants. These are effective against bloodborne pathogens and will also decontaminate most viral vectors. If you have questions about choosing a disinfectant for your work, please contact EH&S Biological Safety at

More information


Biological Safety

(206) 221-7770