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iGEM Safety Questions

1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:

Researcher Safety

  • We are working in category 2 labs adhering to the associated procedures to minimise risk to ourselves when working with bacterial colonies. No major concerns have been identified with the organisms or biobricks being used in our project. The only organism we are using is classified under biosafety level 1, this is the DH5 alpha strain of E.coli, a low risk non-pathogenic strain that is used frequently for routine cloning applications and does not pose an iminent risk to handlers.
  • Approriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is always worn whilst undertaking lab work, for the majority of our research this means gloves, lab coat and protective glasses when neccesarry. In our category two lab this also means wearing a lab coat at all times and not wearing open toed shoes, even if no work is being undertaken. On leaving the lab hands are washed thoroughly and no lab coats may be taken outside of the lab area. All potentially harmful waste was disposed of appropriately following the correct procedures.
  • Making and running agarose gels forms a regular element of our lab work, in order to mimimise the risk to everyone in the lab area we use midori green as our dye. This provides a non carcinogenic option that is less toxic and mutagenic compared to ethidium bromide, however we have also learnt how to handle ethidium bromide safely should we need to use it. This involves wearing all appropriate PPE, undertaking all measuring and diposal work within a fume hood and minimising spillage.

Public and Environmental safety

  • As with many areas of scientific research the use of genetically engineered bacteria in our project has the potential to cause uneasiness among the public. In order to try and combat some of the misconceptions surrounding bacteria, specifically E.coli, we will devise and carry out a survey on synthetic biology whilst also educating people on the real application of E.coli in research and the many harmless strains that exist.
  • In the future if we were to take our bacteria out of the lab they will be completely sealed from the external environment using a plastic varnish or contained within a closed pinhole camera box, while the bacteria are a non pathogenic strain this will still help eliminate any outbreak concerns.
  • We have attempted to minimize the risk to the environment if any of our bacteria were accidentally released by using the DH5 alpha strain of E. coli K12. This strain is unable to transfer plasmids to other bacteria which prevents the antibiotic resistance gene from becoming present in another organism.

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

The BioBrick we are planning to create is a combination of previously characterised BioBricks of which there are no safety issues. If required, we will investigate any safety concerns with all the BioBricks we are planning to use and characterise.

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

Yes, we do and we have attended a seminar about release of engineered organisms into the environment. In short, we learned, don't release it. We will continue to consult with them throughout our project to ensure that we can present our colonies to the public.

4. 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?

We are trying to develop a method to kill and preserve bacterial colonies for public presentation. Ideally, no engineered organism should be removed from the lab unless extensively tested. These preserved colonies will allow us to present our work without any associated risks.

Health and Safety Documents

COSHH guidelines

Individual Health and Safety Responsibilities

Safety Guidance Notes