Finally, as our aim was to produce a working prototype (which we did achieve) we also considered the wider safety implications of using our product in the real world, even basing design decisions on improving safety here.
Lab / Researcher Safety
- The agriColi project involved the genetic manipulation and handling of a variety of strains of E.coli and as such falls under specific safety guidelines defined by the University of Bristol (UoB).
- All students contributing to the laboratory work were registered with the UoB Biological and Genetic Modification Safety Committee, allowing them to work with the variety of biological and chemical agents involved in the agriColi project, under the supervision of Dr. Nigel Savery.
- All laboratory work performed by registered students fell under the guidelines set out by the UoB Safety Committee and also local rules set out by the laboratories where the work was performed - specifically the DNA-Protein Interactions Unit in the School of Biochemistry (under the supervision of Dr. Nigel Savery) and the Root Development Lab in the School of Biological Sciences (under the supervision of Prof. Claire Grierson).
- All students involved in the laboratory work were trained to an appropriate level of competence in the application of techniques and use of relevant equipment, and where necessary supervised whilst performing work in the laboratory.
- All projects were approved and overseen by the iGEM supervisor Dr. Nigel Savery.
Public and Environmental Safety
Given the nature of the agrEcoli product, certain considerations to the environment had to be factored in to the project. Clearly the aerosol distribution of genetically modified E.coli directly onto soil in the British countryside was not an option available to the team, so an alternative method of delivery had to be devised. See pages on bead design and public engagement for more information regarding the delivery system pioneered by the BCCS-Bristol 2010 iGEM team.
Experimental observations regarding the Gellan Gel used to create the bead delivery system informed the team's considerations to environmental safety when applying beads to soil. The natural derivation of Gellan Gel, coupled with its degradation over time during various tests means that the gel is biodegradable and harmless to the environment.
The E.coli encapsulated within the beads were observed to have died and decayed a significant period of time before the degradation of the gel released them directly into the environment.
With regards to the toxicity of agrEcoli beads, the Gellan gel used to create the product is a harmless food additive and is used in a wide variety of commercially available foodstuffs. The E.coli encapsulated within the beads are a lab strain specifically designed to die without the carefully balanced environment created for them in the bead, so and inquisitive children or pets will not by harmed by accidental ingestion of the product.
As a summary of the above, the observations taken by the team during experiments with the gel encapsulation of genetically modified E.coli show us that agrEcoli poses little danger to the environment. There is also very little potential danger from the substances or bacteria used to either humans or animals.
Does Our New BioBrick Raise Any Safety Issues?
We do not believe that our new part BBa_K381001 raises any safety issues. It's component parts are well characterized and have not raised exceptional safety issues in the past. The PyeaR promoter is naturally occuring in E. coli and GFP is a well establised biomarker.
All of our work complies with the University of Bristol's local biosafety and bioethics regulations. We have also extensively considered national implications for safety and ethics in our human practices public information campaign.
Safety Issues for Future iGEM Competitions
We believe that the cell encapsulation technology that we have applied in our project have significant safety benefits. They provide a route for teams to separate genetically modified bacteria from their environment, which should improve the chances of them becoming accepted for use outside the lab.