Team:Paris Liliane Bettencourt/Safety



This is an excerpt of our ethics debate that accompanied us throughout our work. It is not a policy document, nor is it a "hyphen-ethics” piece (bio-ethics, nano-ethics) but instead a hands-on guide to any practitioners of emerging technologies with lots of unknowns. It has been sliced and diced in order to be short and easily referenced by those that do synthetic biology. That said, we recognize there are underlying issues here that require a more thorough treatment.
Later below, we address specifically our project with regards to our own practice.
The three major types of ethical concerns when doing research in an emerging field are concerns about safety, fairness, and concerns about non-physical harms including questions about whether there are some types of research that should simply not be done.
1. Be open to discussing your research. Put a description of your experiments online, have a clear way for press and interested members of the public to contact you with questions, and make sure your results are published in journals that have an open-access option.
2. Rigorously document your research and archive your results. An organized lab notebook is the baseline - an online
notebook is best.
3. Ask senior scientists from a local university or company to act as an advisory board to your team. Despite the incredible talent levels of some younger teams, it is easy for beginners to not see dangers that are obvious to more experienced researchers. Find someone who can check on what you’re up to every so often and make sure you aren’t doing anything unwise by accident.

We think that the information and tools necessary to do synthetic biology must be made widely available. Enough has been said about the broken and parasitic pay-to-read model; we welcome with open arms the arrival of alternatives like PLoS and BioMedCentral. We oppose pay-walls, proprietary licensing schemes, and we strongly encourage grant applicants to include open-access publishing costs in their grants.

Furthermore, the benefits of SB must be widely distributed. This is not a radical demand: the money for most of this research is provided by the taxes paid by citizens of countries around the world. Providing easy access to the results of this research is no less than giving people what they have already bought and paid for.
Finally, we believe there are some ethical issues that deal neither with safety nor distributional fairness, but with nonphysical and relatively “fuzzy” issues that scientific ethics declarations often shy away from. We will shy no more!

We believe that as synthetic biologists, our relationship to nature is like that of an apprentice craftsmen to a grandmaster. We will therefore attempt to learn from nature as we do our work and treat it with the respect it deserves. We will move forward cautiously and with a sincere awareness of our own clumsiness.

1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues? (= Safety Concerns During Election of Project)
During the election of our project, numerous ideas were considered (link to Brainstorming page), and some raise safety issues. Especially while thinking about a biofilm project, we knew there were serious risks to be considered because of the interactions that can occur between bacteria, e human body and environment as bacterial persistence increases. We also thought about what kind of bacteria we could work on, looking for a non-infectious host organism, so we may concentrate more on the engineered parts, devices and systems. We decided to use E. coli, which is quite easy to keep alive and to modify, and can’t thrive inside the intestines.
In the laboratory, we always use protective clothing such as lab coats and gloves when handling all bacterial cultures and DNA samples. The bacterial strains used in our experiments are considered non-hazardous and non-infectious and culture volumes were kept to a minimum so that any risk of spread was minimized. No harmful chemicals were required for use in these experiments. The environment is be protected from contamination by waste products because any dangerous material isdisposed of in the correct container (e.g. biohazard containers for biological waste such as E. coli colonies), autoclaved and disposed of responsibly by the university. Team members will also be taught proper molecular biology skills and aseptic techniques. Public safety is ensured as no member of the public is permitted access within the labs unless approved by the university. Team members will follow proper PCR facility procedures like washing their hands with disinfectant before leaving the laboratory to avoid transmitting potentially harmful material to the public/environment.

2. Do the new BioBrick parts that you made this year raise safety issues? (= Risk-assessment for individual part, potential pathogenicity, environmental impact, possible malign use)
We choose to work on fundamental research projects rather than a project that has potential to be released 'as is' to the environment. However, one of our new BioBricks part does raise a potentially significant safety issue – we decided to use the natural bacteriocidal microcin peptide as an innovative tool to counter-select bacteria. In nature, bacteria under stress express the micorocin together with 'immune' genes in order to protect themselves while killing other bacteria in hunt for food. There's thus a potential hazard in having such a system in a synthetic context, changing the expression control etc. As for us it was essential to have a self-killing extremely small self-killer gene and in order to avoid the potential hazard above, when cloning the original operon from plasmid (kind gift of: add name), we removed the immunity genes. Thus, not only we created a novel controlled suicide system but such that can be used as alternative for antibiotic usage. indeed, one of our bacteria is a microcin producer, and could be able to eradicate all cells of its population except itself by presenting a microsin resistance gene if left out of appropriate control), we eliminated that risk by engineering the operon and making sure that the toxin we use is not exported, so that no malign use or environmental impact is possible.

3. Is there a local Biosafety group at your institution?
The work has been carried out in the laboratory of Evolutionary Systems Biology at the Molecular, Evolutive and Medical Genetics Unit (U51001, also know as [TaMaRa's lab]) of the French National Institute of Medical Research ([INSERM]) within the [Paris Descartes University's Medical faculty]. Thus, the work was inspected by the University's Safety officer . More importantly, the Biosafety officer of our unit followed our work. Both institutions have their ethical committees though no specific issue concerning our project needed to be raised. Nonetheless, a thorough work was done throughout this period regarding general safety and ethical issues not only specific to our work (including declining other ideas of projects that might have had potential future hazard) following the process we established in last year's iGEM team, winner of the Human Practice Award [Ethics and Biosafety].

4. Do you have ideas to deal with safety issues that could be useful for future iGEM competitions? As the iGEM competition is getting more popular each year the number of parts to be submitted is growing. Better documentation and standardization of parts is required. Synbioworld is a project to share best practices, ethical question and approaches, etc… It’s a non-profit association of motivated students who are dedicated to the promotion of Synthetic Biology. We have decided to launch a state-of-the-art social networking and database website in order to bring together the scientific community, enhance the knowledge transfer between scientists and students and permit networking.