Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues?

Researcher Safety

The only organisms used within our research were laboratory strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Escherichia coli. Each is considered a Level 1 Biosafety Containment agent and as such is non-pathogenic. Laboratory safety was ensured via the use of standard decontamination procedures, including but not restricted to: hand washing with bacterial soaps, disinfecting lab surfaces, autoclaving used materials, and bleaching excess cells.

Public Safety

Our project does not pose a threat to public safety, as the two organisms used are nonpathogenic. Moreover, exposure to E. coli and S. cerevisiae is already widespread in the public (Non-pathogenic E. coli is a common resident of the natural gut flora found in humans and S. cerevisiae is routinely used in industry for beer fermentation). However, despite the safety of the organisms, any genetically modified organisms were not allowed to even come in contact with the public, via proper decontamination procedures, and the limiting of only trained personal to the lab.

Environmental safety

Our project does not pose a threat to the environment, for all the strains used are already commonly found in nature as stated above. Moreover, the modifications made to the bacteria would not give said organisms an advantage over others of their species (in fact hindering it as important genes such as ones pertaining to adenine metabolism are knocked out), and as such the bacteria would not thrive. Still, there are always inherent risks in releasing genetically modified organisms into the wild. Therefore, proper decontamination protocols (bleaching of cells, decontamination of lab bench, use of gloves, etc.) were used to ensure that no genetically altered organism would be introduced into the environment.

Note: Safety forms were approved on 9/18/13 by David Lloyd and Julie McNamara. View our basic and software safety forms.

Do any of the new BioBrick parts (or devices) that you made this year raise any safety issues?

The biobricks submitted do not raise any safety issues, as they only include a promoter, two promoter-reporter-terminator devices, and two repressors (one tagged). None of these functions poses a risk to the laboratory worker, the public (as the genetically modified S. cerevisiae is not toxic or pathogenic), or to the environment (provides no survival advantage) and while the creativity of others to misuse science is boundless, malicious use by others is very unlikely.

On a side note, while this part was not submitted to the registry, the human estrogen receptor hER (found in the GEV part of our construct), was obtained from humans, and as such is found in a risk group 2 organism. VP16, also from GEV, is from Herpes viridae, which is also a risk group 2 organism. However, both parts are harmless on their own, and as such do not impart any extra risk upon our genetically modified yeast.

What we can teach other iGEM Teams:

Since our project, if applied, will be used in nature, it is important that other teams as well keep in mind the potential dangers of releasing genetically modified yeast into the environment. While they may be non-pathogenic or completely harmless, by introducing foreign parts from multiple organisms, a survival advantage may be imparted to this particular strain, disturbing the ecological balance present. In any case, every team should be especially careful with their decontamination protocols, ensuring no live cells leave the lab in any media.

Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?

The University of Ottawa has a Biosafety Committee that works with the Office of Risk Management and the Vice President of Research to ensure that all biosafety regulations are met. A lengthy description of their role can be found here.

Our lab falls under the first containment level, meaning that no special design and practice features are necessary as we are not working with organisms which are dangerous if ingested or airborne. The sections of the guide dealing with recombinant DNA and genetic manipulation state that most recombinant DNA work is safe, but containment level and pathogenicity should be considered. Containment level is addressed above, and none of the strains we worked with was pathogenic. Therefore, we did not need to discuss our project with the biosafety comittee.

All lab members are required to take both a biosafety course and a lab safety course prior to getting their access card for the lab. Each course consists of a full day of lecture outlining risks and necessary precautionary measures followed by a take home exam that is marked by the lecturer. Upon passing the exam, lab members received certificates to verify that they had passed and could work in the lab.

In addition, the Government of Canada has issued a lengthy set of guidelines pertaining to biosafety.

Do you have any other ideas how to deal with safety issues that could be useful for future iGEM competitions? How could parts, devices and systems be made even safer through biosafety engineering?

If each team were required to use organisms with a specific knock out that is vital for the survival of said organism, for instance the uracil gene in S. cerevisiae, then if environmental contamination accidentally occurs, said organism would suffer a severe survival disadvantage. As such, the organism should die before any lasting environmental effects can occur.