Team:UEA-JIC Norwich/Safety


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University of East Anglia-JIC



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Our project requires precautions to be taken to ensure the safety of the researchers within the lab. All researchers carrying out synthetic biology experiments or indeed any other kind of biological research must use personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE involves the use of gloves and labcoats to protect from chemical spills, which are corrosive or irritant, such as luciferin. Also, ensuring the use of masks when using powdered media. We have also considered the risks associated with the use of our model organisms. The Escherichia coli strains (NEB 5-alpha Competent E. coli) (1) and Agilent XL10-Gold Ultracompetent Cells (2) used do not contain any pathogenic genes and the moss (Physcomitrella patens) and algae ( CHlamydomonas reinhardtii used pose no threat to any of the team. Arguably the best way to be safe in the lab is to ensure good laboratory practices are followed. We have taken this to heart and believe that it is central to all biological safety issues. Good laboratory practice also helps to maintain research quality standards.


There are many guidelines, laws and policies which ensure a safe working environment for researchers. These cover general health and safety issues as well as those which are specific to bio safety.

The UK has national safety guidelines on bio safety (3)

The University of East Anglia has a health and safety policy (4)

The JIC operates under the standard biosafety rules of the UK (5)

Both the JIC and UEA operate under the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, which ensures that employers have a duty of care to the safety of their employees (6)


Before commencing our research project we received full health and safety training at the JIC and UEA. Our training included use of personal protective equipment (lab coat, gloves, etc.), fire safety training, principles of good laboratory practice, training on the importance of chemical safety and the correct way to dispose of all organisms that are used in the lab.

All the students working on the project have successfully completed the Chemical and Hazardous Waste Handling course given by the John Innes Centre, Environmental Health & Safety Office.


There is a biosafety group run by the JIC, known as the Biosafety International Network and Advisory Service (BINAS) of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). This course is run by UDEC for past two years at the JIC and is now being expanded elsewhere around the globe.


No, our parts do not pose any risk to public or environmental safety.


Our project poses very little risk to public safety. All organisms used in our project do not contain any pathogenic genes and they could not survive outside laboratory conditions. The recombinant DNA we are creating emits light; it is difficult to see how this could ever engender pathogenicity even after horizontal gene transfer to other organisms. Regardless of this, our project must be properly contained. Control measures to ensure this include keeping the windows of the laboratory closed, autoclaving all waste and ensuring that the fume cupboard is clean and that no waste is left behind to ensure that the aerodynamics are sustained.

We do not believe that public bio safety simply relates to the implications of synthetic biology on public health and the environment. Public safety is also about informing, educating and inspiring the public about the possibilities of synthetic biology as well as its risks. Hopefully an informed public will be less swayed by arguments which misunderstand synthetic biology. From this scientists and the public can communicate, share ideas, have balanced debates about the potential of synthetic biology and find consensus in the ethical and safety considerations of synthetic biology applications. To consider public safety from this perspective we have participated in an array of human practices activities.


We carefully designed our research project to minimize risk and to ensure that our research posed little risk to environmental safety. As part of the biosafety review process for our project we have submitted a GMRA which analyses the risk of GM work on Moss and Algae. Sam Bean, the GRO at the JIC, helped us to ensure that our research project complied with JIC biosafety guidelines. All organisms used in our project lack pathogenic genes and they could not survive outside laboratory conditions. We are using lab strains of E. coli, which are unable to live outside the lab as they are out competed as they are optimized for lab conditions. The bacteria do not have any additional fitness advantage, except that they have antibiotic resistance. We have been trained to take appropriate measures to ensure that correct bio containment practices are carried out.


In addition to meeting safety requirements outlined by the JIC, iGEM students should be required to take an online course provided by iGEM to standardize training for all participating students across the globe. The Event Tree Analysis and Fault Tree Analysis described on the iGEM safety page are both promising ways to assure that biological circuits remain safe even when one part fails. This concept could be made a reality if the Parts Registry devoted a special page on their site to catalog certain arrangements of parts that produce unintended consequences. If every team were able to submit their findings to such a page, it would be easy to see trends in the data and make hypotheses as to which parts should not be used in conjunction in the future.


(1) NEB 5-alpha Competent E. coli Information:

(2) Agilent XL10-Gold Ultracompetent Cells Information:

(3) UK guidelines on bio safety


(5) JIC Health and Safety:

(6) Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974: