Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of researcher safety, public safety, or environmental safety?
There are always safety issues to consider and precautions to take when working in a microbiological laboratory. A general safety meeting was held early this spring for the entire department and we were also asked to read through safety rules concerning laboratory work at our department.

We follow good microbiological practice for all our laboratory work. All steps necessary to obtain a safe environment in the laboratory have been taken into consideration; this includes working and keeping lab areas clean and handling potentially hazardous reagents with appropriate safety equipment.

Working with the BioBrick cloning standard we use several different antibiotic resistance markers. These types of selection markers are commonly used in our department and our group follows the handling procedures regulated by the department’s safety protocols, available on the intranet. The cloning vectors carrying these selection markers are all non-conjugative and non-transferable, minimizing the risk of spread to non-laboratory environment. Furthermore, bacterial cell cultures are either iodine inactivated with Jodopax or sterilized by autoclaving.

Despite these safety precautions, in the unlikely event of spread, the bacteria used in our project are all non-pathogenic, well-established laboratory strains Escherichia coli with low survival probabilities outside the laboratory environment; also, culture volumes are kept minimal, thereby further lowering the risk of spread.

Do any of the new BioBrick parts (or devices) that you made this year raise any safety issues?
In addition to the selection markers mentioned above, we will also be expressing three types of cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) that we will fuse to different proteins affecting skin cells and the immune system. At least one of these CPPs has previously been shown capable of penetrating the epidermal layer of human skin. Although we do not expect the peptides to be toxic, all work involving expression of our CPPs will be performed with extra care, e.g. by always using gloves. Also, all equipment (culture tubes, pipette tips etc.) used for CPP expression will be sent for autoclaving to ensure that any potentially toxic peptides will be destroyed. To further minimize handling risks we will exclusively be working with small culture volumes (up to 10 ml).

Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?
No, but there is a general biosafety committee for Stockholm University. They are coordinating and facilitating the task for observing the regulations for contained genetically modified microorganisms and work environmental issues. Unfortunately the information on their website is only in Swedish.

The rules and regulations are set by the Swedish Work Environment Authority. Our department (Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Toxicology) has permission to contain and handle genetically modified microorganisms (GMMs) up to containment level F activities. This is “an activity involving contained used of GMMs and entailing a negligible risk or none at all of harm to human health and environment”. The department is also following the safety measures using good microbiological practice.