Safety Q&A

Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of: researcher safety, public safety, or environmental safety?
The only organism we use in our lab is E. coli, strain DH10B. We follow standard BSL1 protocols to work with it, and any recombinant strains we produce. We have needed to extract genomic DNA from other organisms during the course of our research. When necessary, we have used the lab of our advisor, which is BSL2 rated. As with all recombinant DNA, our project should not, without proper extensive testing, be exposed to the environment or public.

Do any of the new BioBrick parts (or devices) that you made this year raise any safety issues? If yes, did you document these issues in the Registry? How did you manage to handle the safety issue? How could other teams learn from your experience?
All the parts we plan on producing involve better sensing of certain biofuel molecules. These parts will have no inherent safety issues, but should of course be used with caution when being paired with parts that do have risks associated. By only creating parts dealing with inputs, we run no added risk of producing dangerous compounds.

Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution? What do they think of your project? The Office of Biological Safety (OBS) in the Department of Environment, Health, and Safety at the UW-Madison runs a biological safety course which was mandatory for all iGEM participants. Beyond adhering to all guidelines established in this, we have not further discussed project specifics with the OBS.

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? Maintaining best practices established by biosafety committees is always useful, but there are even more interesting options that could be useful for broader synthetic biology safety down the road. For example, making engineered organisms dependent on non-standard nucleotides or amino acids which are only provided in a laboratory setting could help prevent the accidental release of recombinant organisms.

Safety Statement

"The attitudes and actions of those who work in the laboratory determine their own safety, and that of their colleagues and of the community. Laboratory equipment and design can contribute to safety only if they are used properly by people who are genuinely concerned and knowledgeable about safety issues."
If scientists in this new field want to reach for the sky, they must first pull themselves from the underground, for they have the World to prove to us.

Why Care About Safety?
Synthetic Biology is still an emerging field, but it has great promise for benefiting mankind through new cures, new treatments, new methods of fuel production, new chemical syntheses, etc. As the field becomes more powerful and its methods more accessible, it poses dangers if put into the wrong hands or if the wrong mistakes are made. As scientists in this emerging field, it is our duty to carefully evaluate any possible safety issues, not only because of general safety concerns, but also because any breach in safety has the potential for to demolish any positive public and scientific opinion. Though this new born field has great prospects, any negligence can ruin the field's reputation. We must prove to the general public and other scientists that the potential dangers of Synthetic Biology can be effectively recognized, controlled, and prevented.

What Safety Concerns Exist For Synthetic Biology?
The safety considerations for this project require reflection on the latent and inherent hazards of releasing or contacting a genetically modified bacterial strain. We wish to acknowledge and assess any possible hazards associated with a such a project. Throughout the entire development process of a new organism, from initial design conception to experimental implementations to real world applications, synthetic biologists must be conscious of the possible inherent dangers of bioengineering. Things like researcher safety, global health, and even market capitalization should all be considered when designing and preparing an organism for some world application:

What Safety Concerns Exist for Our Project?
The safety concerns for our project can be separated into two categories: the immediate concerns for our lab and researchers, and the concerns for public safety and environment if this organism gets widespread use.

Our project uses the DH10B strain of E. Coli, which has been specifically engineered for lab use for the propagation of large insert DNA clones [1]. DH10B is a very safe organism and is classified as a Biosafety Level 1 (BSL1) organism. All researchers were trained in the proper chemical and biological safety techniques, as is required per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute of Health (NIH) guidelines. Adherence to these guidelines (proper lab attire, handling techniques, etc.) was maintained. Lab personnel were also given proper training on all lab equipment prior to use. Researchers were informed of the dangers of all the chemicals (Ethydium Bromide) used. Experiments required no further safety measures other than those specified in the BSL1 guidelines.

Our host strain (DH10B) was probably the most important factor regarding safety concerns for the environment and the public well-being. As previously mentioned, this E.Coli strain has been engineered for lab use due to its properties of high DNA transformation efficiency and the maintenance of large plasmids. Wild type strains of E.Coli would quickly outcompete DH10B in the event of human or environmental exposure. Initial experiments also seem to indicate that our sensing system strains the metabolism/homeostasis of our DH10B, further reducing its viability both inside and outside the lab environment. Additionally, the plasmids introduced into the DH10B strain do not contain any antibiotic resistances not commonly used for synthetic biology selectivity or otherwise improve the resistance, durability, or reproduction of our organism that would give it unique advantages/characteristics over its native brethren. If ever used in industry, our organism does not require any human or environmental exposure to be effective. It is intended solely for use in controlled environments (i.e. labs, feed reactors, etc.). The ethical implications for our organism are also considered.

Would the materials used in your project and/or your final product pose:

a. Risks to the safety and health of team members or others in the lab?
Disregarding the bleach and ethydium bromide, the materials used in our project do not pose any safety threat to the members of our lab or any nearby labs. All of our members practice proper safety protocol when handling bleach and ethydium bromide, such as wearing gloves when using these chemicals.

b. Risks to the safety and health of the general public if released by design or accident?
Due to the sensing premise of our project, even if it were to function correctly in the public, its only effect is turning red and thus does not pose as a threat to the public if it were released.

c. Risks to environmental quality if released by design or accident?
Environmental quality would not be affected by this project.

d. Risks to security through malicious misuse by individuals, groups or states?
The effect of this project does not pose any harm to anyone nor the environment and malicious individuals would find it extremely difficult to make our project damage the environment or others. The inducible promoters and genes used in our project is found in other organisms in order to obtain a carbon source.

Specifically, are any parts or devices in your project associated with (or known to cause):
- pathogenicity, infectivity, or toxicity?
- threats to environmental quality?
- security concerns?
Our parts do not exhibit any type of pathogenicity, infectivity, toxicity, threats to environmental quality or pose as a security concern to any companies or organizations associated with our group.

Under what biosafety provisions will / do you operate?
Under the UW-Madison biosafety regulations.

Does your institution have its own biosafety rules and if so what are they? Provide a link to them online if possible.
Our institution requires the members of our lab to complete both chemical and biological safety training course. We also have an office that regulates biological safety here.

Does your institution have an Institutional Biosafety Committee or equivalent group? If yes, have you discussed your project with them?
Yes, we have the office of environmental safety .

Describe any concerns or changes that were made based on this review.
Will / did you receive any biosafety and/or lab training before beginning your project? If so, describe this training.

We received onling biosafety training and attended a seminar on chemical safety training. In addition we also practiced proper lab etiquette with our instructor 2 weeks before the research started. The biological training contained a series of quizzes after providing PowerPoint slides of the content.

Does your country have national biosafety regulations or guidelines? If so, provide a link to them online if possible.
Yes, the Center of Disease Control has biosafety regulations for laboratories to follow in the United States. See their website here.

Do you have other ideas on how to deal with safety or security issues that could be useful for future iGEM competitions? How could parts, devices and systems be made even safer through biosafety engineering?
Make the parts from the parts registry what they actually are. Due to the poor quality of parts sent from the registry, there is a possibility that the sent parts could be handled incorrectly from the lack of accurate information on the registry.