To address potential safety issues with our project, we were asked by iGEM to answer the following questions:

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

    In terms of researcher and public safety, all research was performed in Biosafety Level 1 (BSL1) facilities, following all local and federal regulations with regards to BSL1 research. Any version of the iGarden toolkit meant for use by the general public would require additional precautions to prevent spread of genetically modified plants into the environment. To this end, we have considered best practices for public safety and decided that any finalized toolkit would require a robust Genetic Fence.

  2. 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?

    None of our parts raise any safety issues, but we recommend that any groups that intend to utilize our parts and devices follow established guidelines for the research of transgenic plants. For our project, all arabidopsis research was performed indoors in a BSL1 laboratory setting. In the future, we would like to deploy the iGarden kit to a wider audience, but that will require the inclusion of the completed genetic fence, along with regulatory approval.

    To address concerns with the use of the Barnase enzyme for the Genetic Fence, we have put together a separate page on the safety of this device: Genetic Fence Safety.

  3. 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?

  4. The Harvard University Operations Services (UOS) Environmental Health and Safety Department has guidelines primarily focused on minimizing exposure to and properly disposing of biohazardous materials. Although we have not consulted these groups directly regarding specific aspects of our project, our work involves standard cloning techniques that are relevant to the safety guidelines already in place at Harvard. All team members who worked at the bench this summer have had proper safety training. Guidelines were strictly enforced by the Teaching Fellows.

  5. 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?

  6. The Registry of Standard Biological Parts could compose a set of safety regulations (e.g., proper disposal, safe lab practices, etc.) and a contract that users are required to read and agree with before receiving parts from the registry. Simple practices to prevent the spread of potentially harmful substances into the environment is an inexpensive practical alternative to complicated biosafety engineering; this approach has been effective over the past several decades of molecular cloning.