Bioterio characteristics, functions, types

David Holt

A vivarium It is a set of facilities designed to house and maintain laboratory animals for a period of their life or their entire life cycle. A laboratory animal is known as any organism (excluding humans) used for experimental purposes..

The use of these animals is mainly based on the biological and physiological similarities with humans. Among the animals used in vivariums are pigs, rodents, dogs, sheep, goats, cats, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and even primates. The most used are guinea pigs or guinea pigs, rats, mice and rabbits..

Nursery of the National Institute of Hygiene, Caracas, Venezuela. Taken and edited from

Article index

  • 1 Features
  • 2 Functions
  • 3 Types
  • 4 Bioethics and the 3 Rs
    • 4.1 -Replacement
    • 4.2 -Reduction
    • 4.3 -Refinement
  • 5 References


The characteristics of a vivarium vary depending on the scope and activities for which they were designed. In general, these facilities employ rigorous equipment and control mechanisms in order to minimize possible risks..

For example, when activities are related to microbiological and biomedical biosafety laboratories, the facilities should be separated from the support and accommodation areas of the animals..

Animal testing is a controversial and sensitive topic. Most countries have rules and regulations governing the operation of animal houses, as well as animal experimentation.

The penalties for breaches of these rules can go up to the closure of the facilities and even the imprisonment of those responsible. These regulations also dictate the characteristics that a nursery must have. For example, in Mexico, the United States and Europe, a nursery is characterized by having:

  • Facilities that satisfy the physiological and ethological (behavior) requirements of the animals.
  • Spaces that allow interactions between animals of the same species.
  • Facilities with adequate ventilation and lighting.
  • Operating room, cleaning and sterilization areas.
  • High levels of security that prevent the escape of organisms.
  • Installations with rounded edges and edges.
  • Individual confinement areas that can be monitored with the naked eye.
  • Strong containers or cages that prevent the escape of animals.
  • Optimal sanitation conditions, not only for the animals in captivity, but also for the personnel who work there.

Additionally, it is very important to mention that these facilities are characterized by having a highly qualified and trained staff. These places must have maintenance personnel, engineers, veterinarians, biologists and depending on the program they follow, even geneticists, microbiologists, bioanalysts among others..


One of the first records of the use of live animals for experimental purposes was made by Erasistratus in the 3rd century BC. C. to study your bodily humors.

Later Galen, used live pigs to analyze the functions of certain nerves and determine the position of the ureters. From this moment on, the history of the use of live animals for research is quite extensive, since this practice has developed in parallel with biomedicine.

The function of animal houses is the use of animals (not humans) mainly in the development of biomedical research.

In these facilities, anatomical, physiological and behavioral aspects of laboratory animals, as well as their care and handling, are made known. Nurseries tend to exist in the science faculties of many institutes and universities.


There are a wide variety of types and sizes of vivariums that house animals for research purposes. The size and design of these places will depend on the available resources, the species housed and the type of use to which they are destined, be it for university or industrial research, or university or school teaching..

Depending on the purpose for which it is intended, three types of animal houses can be defined:

Nursery livestock

Provides guarantee of origin of the animals. Controls and defines, among other aspects, the genetic load of the animals, as well as their health.

Food storage facility

Used mainly to keep animals to obtain blood and organs. They are also used to obtain culture media, as well as for the development of surgical techniques..

Experimental farm

In these, the facilities must be specially designed. Animal experimentation increases the risks of zoonosis, therefore special attention must be paid to biosecurity.

Bioethics and the 3 Rs

Currently the animal houses are governed by a rigorous code of ethics. The use of animals is ethical only when all alternatives have been exhausted and their use will lead to a greater good.

Now, the science of laboratory organisms or animals exists to provide scientists with the training and guidelines necessary for experimentation with these. And its code dictates that animals cannot and should not be subjected to physical or psychological abuse.

The 3 Rs were established by scientists Russell and Burch in the manuscript The Principles of Human Experimental Technique, where they establish accepted standards for the use of live animals in laboratory experiments.

These principles (3 Rs) have been incorporated as part of many national and international laws on the use of animals in scientific research. And are next:


Replacement refers to the use of techniques, technologies, and approaches that replace or avoid the use of live animals in experiments. The replacement is divided into two types:

Full replacement

Avoid using research animals at all costs. Promotes the use of human volunteers and other alternatives such as numerical or theoretical.

Partial replacement

It promotes the use of research animals that, according to scientific thinking, are not capable of feeling pain or suffering, such as some invertebrates.


The reduction includes methods that seek to make the most of the information obtained per animal, in order to minimize the use of additional organisms.

Examples of these can be blood micro-samplings, where small amounts of blood allow repeating the sampling in the same animal..

Even the exchange of information between researchers avoids repeating the collection of samples and therefore the suffering or sacrifice of the organisms..


Refinement seeks methods to reduce the suffering that animals may feel after experimentation. The approach not only seeks to reduce pain in organisms but also to improve processes.

This is necessary not only for the welfare of animals. It has been shown that when they suffer, their immune system and physiology are altered, which can lead to variations or errors in the results.


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  3. Official Mexican Standard NOM-062-ZOO-1999, Technical specifications for the production, care and use of laboratory animals. Recovered from
  4. W. Romero-Fernandez, Z. Batista-Castro, M. De Lucca, A. Ruano, M. García-Barceló, M. Rivera-Cervantes, J. García-Rodríguez, S. Sánchez-Mateos. 2016. The 1, 2, 3 of the experimentation with laboratory animals. Peruvian Journal of Experimental Medicine and Public Health.
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