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Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of: researcher safety, public safety, or environmental safety?

    All our work is supervised by PhD students, PhDs and professors of our university who are very experienced in lab work and are currently working in genetics / molecular biology. We document our work in our lab notebook to enable replicability and prevent unnecessary errors. In the case of an error, we are able to locate its source and correct it next time. Our project does not pose any dangers to researchers or the public: We are following widely used lab protocols in a appropriate lab facility (biosafety level 1 laboratory). The organisms used in our project, namely Escherichia coli (TOP10 strain) and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, are well-known and considered safe. Although, by building a biosensor we are tackling an environmental problem, our system is not intended to be used in the field but in a lab only. Users of our system are supposed to take samples from close waters, such as rivers and lakes, and add our modified yeast strain. We are working at a biosafety level 1 laboratory, which implies several methods for guaranteeing safety to researchers and environment are constantly enforced but research is limited to well known and nonhazardous species.


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

    We have designed 3 different types of BioBricks. Membrane bound receptors for sensing hormones, a small inverter system to regulate our reporter gene, and the reporter gene itself. None of these are found toxic or dangerous by any means. The receptors we use are synthesized after genome-sequences of Danio rerio and Xenopus laevis, both are commonly used model organisms in biology. The rest of the genes and promoters are extracted from the S. cerevisiae genome via PCR. All of the parts we use are expressed in wildtype organisms and are not known to have any harmful effect on humans or other organisms.


Which specific biosafety rules or guidelines do you have to consider in your country?

    In Germany any work with genetically modified organisms is regulated by the "Gentechnikgesetz". There are different biosafety levels ranging from 1 to 4. Our lab has been registered as biosafety level 1. Our work matches the definition of level 1 since based on our current understanding we see no threats on human health or the environment originating from our work. Genetically modified organisms are allowed to be released into nature only after permission of the Umweltministerium (Department of the Environment) and once freed they need to be monitored constantly.


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?

    Parts that are able to induce apoptosis or autolyis could be expressed under promoters that are activated if a specific substance is lacking or present in an uncontrolled environment as opposed to a lab. As an example 2011's team of UCL London had a concept for autolysis that could be of value. This year BGU Israel's iGEM-team is developping a "Programmable Autonomous Self Elimination"-system.

For our measurement system a possible promoter could be induced by low iron supply, which then would have to be a part of the culture medium in the lab. In environments without iron the organism would not only be unable to survive but would be killed immediately. Mechanisms of this kind would then have to be a obligatory requirement for all contest-submissions.


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