SJTU-BioX-Shanghai 2010

Safety Q&A

For iGEM 2010 we are asked to detail how we approached any issues of biological safety associated with their projects (see here). Here are the questions and our answers:

  • Q1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:
    • researcher safety,
    • public safety, or:
    • environmental safety?
  • Answer:
    • There is no evidence that our project causes, or will cause safety issues listed above.
      • For the most intensely focused researcher saftety, we use common research-use retroviruses which only transfects mouse cells and are unable to transfect human cells during our cell experiments. Moreover, all of our team members, no matter they are doing experiments with viral vectors or non-hazardous E.coli (DH5α or TOP10), always wear protective gears such as glasses, masks, lab coats and double-layered gloves.
      • For public or environmental safety, we have also reduced risks to minimum. All waste including air and waste water is collected and sanitized together by the laboratory's disposing system before it enters further processing factories. Strict regulations of our laboratory prevents risks of experiment matierials releasing into the environment; we have engineered multiple guarantee mechanisms in our project such as tissue-specific promoters, light-controlled switch and suicide module for E. coli. Besides, we have not yet advance our project to even animal model phase, not to mention clinical phase.

  • Q2. 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?
  • Answer:
    • No. Not a single safety issue has been raised by our parts or devices. Our parts all come from synthesis by commercial companies or PCR from natural organisms. There is no possibility of introducing hazardous parts or devices, and they are not designed to pose threats to humans or anything else. We indeed used retrovirus in our experiments, but that's a very common tool virus for eukaryotic molecular biology, plus that it can only transfect mouse cells, not human cells. Therefore, they are no dangerous to the public or research communities at all.

  • Q3. 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?
  • Answer:
    • Pity that we currently don't have such a comittee or board at our Institution or university. We are preparing to set up one in the near future.
    • Here in China, we need to take into consideration Biosafety Regulation on Pathogenic Microbes and Safety Regulation on Genetic Engineering. We have strictly obeyed the policies and regulations during our experiment and neither pathogenic microorganism leakage nor researchers' infection has ever happended.

  • Q4. 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?
  • Answer:
    • As whether many parts and circuits can be dangerous under certain circumstances is unpredictable, we have come up with an idea of a self-destructive plasmid. The standard plasmid could be embedded with an inducible promoter followed by a “suicide gene”. Once having the suspicion that the system may bring about hazard, we can activate the “suicide gene” expression, destructing the whole plasmid or even host bacteria. It could be the last insurance for almost all the synthetic biological systems.