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Bacterial microcompartments (BMCs) occur naturally in several bacteria, and are not associated with any toxicity issues. The goal of our project is to engineer BMCs to carry enzymatic pathways for biocatalysis. In future, this technology can be used in industrial fermentations for production of various compounds. Like any other technology, the overall safety of in vivo nanobioreactors will depend on desired end product. If enzymes targeted to the BMCs are such that the final product is toxic to human beings or other organisms, then we have a problem. If not, then our in vivo nanobioreactors should be safe for use. In fact, since BMCs are expected to prevent release of toxic reaction intermediates, our project may actually lead to safer manufacturing practices.

For our project, we have worked with non-pathogenic laboratory strains of E. coli (Biosafety level 1). We cloned ethanolamine utilization (Eut) genes from Salmonella LT2 genomic DNA, which was obtained from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). None of us came in contact with live Salmonella cells. Execution of our idea involves working with non-pathogenic laboratory or industrial bacterial strains, under standard operating conditions. Therefore, we do not expect that our work will have an adverse effect on the safety of researchers or the public as a whole. As the recombinant BMC-containing microbes will be used either in the lab or in industrial bioreactors (and not released into the open), our project idea should not endanger the safety of the environment.

All research conducted by the 2010 University of Minnesota iGEM team has been approved by the University of Minnesota Institutional Biosafety Committee.

To raise awareness of current issues and potential problems that may arise from synthetic biology projects, it would be great to have a central repository of relevant information. We suggest that organizers of iGEM and/or Registry of Standard Biological Parts upload presentations by Bioethics experts that cover these topics. Links to Bioethics websites would also be very useful.