There are 4 questions in Safety.

1. Safety of Project

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

  • Public safety

To ensure the safety of both the public and researchers, we consulted our advisors when planning out our project. In the process, we abandoned many of our ideas due to the concern that they may raise safety issues: For example, we first thought of using poisonous chemical compounds such as arsenic with the purpose of dealing with environmental pollution, but in the end, we reached the conclusion that it is too risky.

We made extra sure that hazardous reagents and equipment are handled properly and safely. The major materials we used that may raise safety issues include:

  • Ethidium Bromide (EtBr)---Very commonly used to visualize DNA and RNA because it binds to nucleic acids and fluoresces when exposed to UV. However, its binding property to double-stranded DNA makes itself harmful for organisms at the same time---it is thought to intercalate DNA and deform the molecule, thereby acting as a mutagen. Therefore, care should be taken during its use, storage and disposal. We wore gloves whenever we use EtBr, and all the EtBr contaminated debris were double wrapped and collected separately to be incinerated.
  • Ultra Violet machine---Used in combination with EtBr. As is well known, UV has various hazardous effects on human body. In addition to causing direct and indirect damage to DNA (through subtype UVB and UVC), it also damages collagen fibers, destroys vitamin A, and is especially harmful to eyes and skin. All the more because we are familiar with UV ray, we should be careful when using the machine not to over expose ourselves to it.
  • Autoclave---Used to sterilize equipment and reagents and to inactivate bacteria. The proper use of autoclave is imperative since it works at high temperature and pressure and is therefore potentially very dangerous. Senior students confirmed and reconfirmed over and over again that we all operate it correctly.
  • Gas burner---Since we first had to do without biosafety cabinets and an alternative control measure was required, we used gas burners and heated the air around the workspace to rise, thereby reducing contamination. Although gas burner is a common combustion apparatus we are all familiar with, it can directly cause a massive disaster if used improperly. We made all-out efforts to keep all the flammable items away from the flame and to not pass behind a person who is using a gas burner.
  • Chloramphenicol (Cam)---As is often the case with antibiotics, Cam has harmful effects on us. Among its adverse side effects, the two most serious may be bone marrow suppression and the resulting aplastic anemia. This year, we used Cam only for bacterial selection for part submission, but we made all of us aware of its myelotoxicity and wear gloves when handling.

  • Environmental safety  

Since one of the purposes of our project is to prevent the unregulated spread of genetically modified organisms, especially bacteria, the closest attention was paid when handling and disposing of bacterial cultures or any of its by-products. We made sure all the biohazardous waste and labware had been autoclaved before disposal.

  • Researchers safety

We think that good education on safety guidelines and requirements is the primary, yet important and effective way to enable researchers to protect themselves. As our first activity this year, we provided all of our new members with basic knowledge and understanding of biotechnology, and then had them trained for their assigned experiments. Being frequently visited and gone over by senior students and advisors, all of us, including freshmen and sophomores, could carry out all the experiments safely.


2. Safety of Parts

Q. 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?

A. None of the 18 parts we submitted raise any safety issues. However, organisms applied with lysis cassete to emit chemical substances by cell lysis have to be managed carefully. Such organisms are always modified so that they produce as much chemical substances as possible. In order to reduce the safety risk, we should take strict measures according to the governmental safety guidance.


3. Safety Rules

Q. Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution? If yes, what does your local biosafety group think about your project? If no, which specific biosafety rules or guidelines do you have to consider in your country?

A. Yes: Laboratory of Science Communication and Bioethics, which belongs to the Kyoto University Graduate School of Bioscience, is in charge of making all the biological researches carried out in our institution transparent to the public. For detailed information on their activities, please visit the following websites: [1], [2]

We held meetings at least once in every two weeks with our advisors, all of them familiar with the safety guidelines set by the group, and confirmed our abidance by the rules. When we faced problems and had to change the approved protocols in between the meetings, we promptly got in touch with the advisors and got their advice before taking the next action. Since they often have conversations with the biosafety group and assure the appropriateness of our approach, we can say our activities are recognized and approved by the group. Besides, our activities have also been approved and well supported by Prof. Yonehara, the dean of the Graduate School of Biostudies.


4. Other Ideas

Q. 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?

A. We have one simple proposal: To set official iGEM standards for biosafety.

We propose this because more and more teams from different countries participate in iGEM, and we expect the standards for biosafety cannot be maintained in the future.

Our suggestion is as follows;

In establishing the standard, not only the discussion between researchers and experts in biosafety, but also an interview to participants is necessary. This is because it seems there are big differences in the experimental instruments and how much teams can afford to biosafety. International and national guidelines also have to be concerned.

Once the standards are established, they can be made into an itemized checklist that can be easily referred to even when iGEMers are busy with experiments. Also, in order that these standards are well maintained, iGEM HQ can carry out surprise inspections.