Team:Baltimore US/Safety


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"Not only would I like to have the participation of the Baltimore DIYbio group, but I think that the two of you have possibly set a standard on how the community can participate in an established event such as iGEM. You're contribution would be invaluable. " Agent You, FBI - WMD Directorate. July 19, 2010

Bio-Safety, Bio-Security, Bio-Ethics

We at Baltimore-Us, strongly endorse the democratization of knowledge while taking up the self-responsibility required to proceed in areas of research such as Synthetic Biology that have so many far-reaching inherent implications. Since our initial gathering, we have discussed the issues of safety, security, and ethics that surface when dealing with recombinant DNA technologies. As individuals drawn towards this topic through Jason Bobe and Mackenzie Cowell's DIY-Bio community ( ) as well as the various other hacker-space movements such as the maker-faire model, we have observed members of the scientific community that hold the idea of non-institutional involvement at arms length. The coming divide between a citizenry that understands inherently the processes involved in recombinant technologies has the potential to dwarf cultural inequalities exponentially.

A citizenry that is responsibly informed has the potential to work harmoniously with many security and health concerns. Potential benefits include creating viral/bioweapon detection grids, home-manufacturing molecules of interest (drugs/vaccines), and the development of other useful future tools of biotechnology. Citizen biotechnology could revolutionize the world's viewpoint as to what contributions are possible for individuals to make with regards to the advancement of biology.

An interesting paper speaking to this effect was delivered by self-proclaimed bio-punk Meredith Patterson this winter in LA.

We contacted iGEM security directorate, Piers Millet, directly following our organizational meeting in February. At his suggestion we hosted a discussion with Michelle Williams of National Journal and William You, WMD Director of the FBI here in DC, only days after he attended the Woodrow Wilson Center's Synthetic Biology forum.
The article above shows how sensationalistic journalists/editors attempt to frame issues to create a sense of drama. In response to which we've worked with various individuals within the federal infrastructure to delineate a clearer set of standards and have proposed a Bio-C.O.R.E. (Citizen Outreach Response and Education) volunteer organization to help decentralize bio-safety/security response. In addition we've recommended to all our community members to familiarize themselves with the training tools from the American Bio Safety Association located at as well.

Specific to the work we are performing in our lab, we work under bio-safety level 1 conditions. We consider the greatest danger in our lab to be Ethidium Bromine that is utilized to run gels. This substance requires a particular disposal separate of the bio-hazard waste that is used to dispose of used pipette tips. When performing batch DNA extractions we also utilize a Phenol/Formaldehye mixture that along with some of the other volatile chemicals require separate disposal storage. Learning a little about the organisms and chemicals that we are working with can give us a clear view on how to safely operate with them and prevent contamination.

The general chassis (microbe) that we have been working with is Escheria Coliform bacteria or e. coli for short. E. Coli has a pretty infamous reputation in relation to food poisoning and other intestinal illness. How is it that we can make fuel, drugs and art out of a stomach bug without continually heading to the restroom ourselves?
E.Coli in nature.
E.Coli as a model organism.

DIY-GEM Baltimore, USA Lab BioSafety Summary

The DIY Bio iGEM team is a diverse group of students with a wide range of ages and varying backgrounds – all with a common interest of genetic engineering. The main Baltimore iGEM team lab is located at the Community College of Baltimore County(CCBC) under the direction of Dr. Tom Burkett. The responsibility of Bio-Safety and Bio-Security extends from the institution to the lab and to each individual team member.

Institutional Responsibility

The college is accountable for: hazard identification, a written Hazard Communication Plan (HCP), management of Material Safety Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) and safety training.

CCBC abides by federal regulations and guidelines developed and enforced by: Center for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute for Health (NIH), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), EnvironmentalProtection Services (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

A Hazard Communication Program (HAZCOM) has been established to insure compliance with all directives according to the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR 1910.1200). The purpose is to provide all those utilizing college lab facilities with a reference guide to working with hazardous chemicals. This program includes a chemical hygiene plan (CHP) detailing chemical safety information and procedures.

Items included in the CHP are:

  • General chemical safety rules and procedures
  • Purchases, distribution and storage of chemicals
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Availability of medical programs
  • Maintenance, housekeeping and inspection procedures
  • Availability of protective devices and clothing
  • Record keeping policies
  • Training and employee/student information programs
  • Chemical labeling requirement
  • Accident and spill policies
  • Waste disposal programs
  • Emergency response plans
  • Designation of a safety officer

A critical piece to the hazard communication program includes employee/student training. Science Safety Procedures apply to all campus labs. Each iGEM team member is required to complete lab safety training and signs a safety procedure agreement or risks team eviction. Included in the training are Standard or Good Microbiological Practices (GMP) which are basic practices for working with any microorganism. Also some universal lab safety rules are required practice.

Laboratory Responsibility

The lab plays a large role in the Biosafety and and BioSecurity of all campus labs including the iGem team lab. A key role is implementing the institutional and Federal and local applicable regulations and designating a Lab Safety Officer. In addition, lab accountability covers:

  • Labeling and documentation - on lab doors, cabinets/storage, waste containers and materials
  • Material Data Safety Sheets on any incoming or outgoing lab material.
  • Project Safety Analysis - where hazards are identified in every lab process and risk reduction strategy is implemented.
  • Housekeeping of the facilities and equipment
  • Emergency response also falls under the responsibility of the lab from First Aid, Protective devices, training and evacuation routes
  • Also very important is the lab risk analysis - evaluating the biosafety level (BSL)designation.

The iGem lab is equipped for a BSL 2 designation, but our team lab facilities are designated as basic - BioSafety Level 1 - based on the lab design/construction, equipment, practices and operational procedures working with various agents. The recombinant DNA technology used is our labs is safe. Plasmid cloning vectors in combination with Escherichia coli K12 strain have been entirely sequenced. E.coli K12 is a non-pathogenic strain that can’t permanently colonize in healthy humans so routine genetic engineering experiments can safely be performed at BSL 1.

Individual Team Member Responsibility

Each team member is responsible for their own safety while working in the lab as well as for those around them. It is required that all team members abide by government, institutional and lab regulations and policy including personnel safety practices and lab safety practices as emphasized in training. Baltimore iGem team members are committed to staying up to date on current regulation and reducing risk for Physical, Chemical and Biological hazards

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We recognize the importance of each member's personal responsibility to the safety and security of our labs and our work. This includes the duty of not ignoring another's unsafe or possible harmful actions. We are committed to acting in a responsible manner and taking a pro-active approach to staying current with international and national laws, regulations and guidelines. We are dedicated to being informed about principles and practices designed to prevent hostile use of our labs, equipment, materials and products. It is our duty to contemplate the safety and security issues that may arise as an outcome of our projects.

  1. 'Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of: researcher safety, public safety or environmental safety?'
    • No, our project does not raise any safety issues in regards to researcher, public or environmental safety. We operate under the BSL-1 category and adhere to Standard Microbiological Practices as recommended by the US Dept. of Health & Human Services, CDC & NIH. Lab Safety Training has been provided to each team member and are properly supervised.
  2. 'Do any of the new BioBrick parts (or devices) that you made this year raise any safety issues?'
    • No, our new parts do not raise any safety issues.
  3. 'Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?'
    • Yes, a BioSafety team Committee has been assembled for our iGEM project.
  4. 'Do you have any other ideas how to deal with safety issues that could be useful for future iGEM competitions?'
    • CDC Lab BioSafety certification would be useful training to iGEM team members.

Recent Presidential Summit on BioEthics in Relation to Synthetic Biology.