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

Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal and so all solutions, media, bacteria, etc. containing cadmium must be disposed of as hazardous waste. In the first part of our project the E. coli must be incubated in cadmium-containing media in order to form quantum dots. This part of the project will be performed at Cooper Union in the laboratory of biomedical engineering. The advantage of synthesizing quantum dots biologically as opposed to chemically is that it allows the quantum dots to be encapsulated so that the toxic cadmium is not interacting directly with the environment, however they are still cadmium-containing and the quantum dots must be disposed of as hazardous chemical waste. We are attempting to solve this problem by using other less toxic metals, such as zinc, to synthesize quantum dots rather than the toxic cadmium. Since all heavy metals will be disposed of using a hazardous waste disposal service, and our bacteria will never be released into the environment, there will be no public safety or environmental issues associated with conducting this research. If the research is successful and we succeed in making quantum dots using zinc in bacteria, we will have made the process safer and more ecologically friendly.

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

The BioBrick parts that we will be making will not raise any safety issues.

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

Cooper Union has a lab safety officer and as long as the heavy metal-containing materials from this project are disposed of in hazardous waste, they have no problem with the project.

Genspace has a Scientific Advisory Board.The portions of the project to be carried out at Genspace are strictly biobricking and construction of plasmids containing metal-binding peptides and other non-pathogenic sequences, and the Board has no issues with this project.

The project adheres to NIH Guidelines for recombinant DNA research, and since the bacteria will be used to produce a product in a container and never be released into the environment, not environmental issues are raised except disposal of waste from the manufacturing process.

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?

Genetically engineered bacteria have the ability to encapsulate the harmful products that they may produce. They have the ability to separate the harmful products from the researcher, the public, and the environment. Nanotechnology will benefit from biologically-assembled arrays and devices, because the manufacturing process will be less toxic. The particular issues raised by quantum dots can be partially mitigated by substituting other less toxic metals with similar properties.

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