Any laboratory experiment, big or small, can become dangerous when those involved do not consider the risks involved. The Washington University iGEM team has gone to great lengths to address the risks involved in this year’s project. Overall, our project can be considered low risk as it was never intended to come in contact with humans. However, as it is designed to be a tool to be used by other researchers, it is never certain that it will not come in human contact. To ensure that our organisms do not acquire dangerous mutations, our E. coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae should be cultured and tested in proper laboratory environment. If the bacteria and yeast are in fact ingested, it would not produce adverse effects as the bacteria and yeast would not be able to survive in the stomach’s acidic environment. If, however, the organism was engineered to produce a toxic protein using the engineered splicing machinery, handling the organism without proper protection or ingesting it would be hazardous. Because the probability of this happening is dependent upon the design of the project, teams utilizing the splicing machinery must take any necessary precautions. The same could be said of the project being hazardous to the environment. The main safety concern of this project arises during DNA purification using gel electrophoresis.

Gel electrophoresis utilizes the carcinogen ethidium bromide to tag DNA as it travels though an agarose gel. It can be absorbed through the skin. For this reason, a separate lab bench was set aside specifically for gel electrophoresis. Everything coming in contact with the toxin, including pipets, tips, gel rigs, and glassware is clearly marked and contained within that lab bench. Anybody touching anything on the lab bench must wear proper laboratory clothing and nitrile gloves. Furthermore, there is a container designated to store all waste, solid and liquid, with any traces of ethidium bromide. This then will be deposited and properly disposed of later.

All research conducted at Washington University (medical school and main campus) is under the supervision of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR). This office is responsible for all concerns pertaining to research and publications produced by the university. Our lab must comply with the Environmental Health and Safety Policy and Procedures laid out by the OVCR. To view the full list of Environmental Health and Safety Policies and Prcedures, please visit the Washington University Environmental Health and Safety website. Furthermore, every team member has completed an Annual Regulatory and Safety Review for Laboratory Personnel offered by the Environmental Health and Safety committee at Washington University. This review is offered annually and all of our team members have at least one year of lab experience working with live cultures

Our new BioBricks are designed to be used in E. coli and S. cerevisiae. They conform to the BioBrick standards and pose minimal hazard to people and the environment, when used wisely. Extra precautionary measures should be taken when implementing potentially harmful gene manipulation when using the splicing machinery.