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Safety Issues

These are the safety questions for the judging form:

1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:

  • Researcher Safety:

Throughout the whole project, we used the strains E. coli DH5α and Bacillus subtilis 168. Both of the strains are known to be harmless. However, we carefully followed the Class II microbiology safety regulations in the UK while working with those strains.

We worked in the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology (CBCB) at Newcastle University for the entire project. There is a general list of rules and regulations for everyone to follow in the lab, which can be found here. One of our advisors, Dr Wendy Smith, gave us a guide through the safety issues in the first week, which was the introduction week to prepare us for the lab.

We also got to make and break concrete in the structures lab, which requires appropriate safety regulations to be obeyed. When we were in the structures lab, we wore safety goggles, steel toe cap boots and gloves, which will be able to protect us from lab based accidents.

  • Public Safety:

Our project is about repairing cracks formed on the concrete surface with Bacillus subtilis 168. It is a lab strain and is non-pathogenic. Before spraying onto the concrete surface, there is a chance of them escaping into the environment. Spores in the absence of media won't be able to germinate and spread in the wild. At the same time, to prevent humans from inhaling the spores, it is advisable that while spraying the spores onto the concrete surface by a sprayer, the personnel should wear a face mask. Also if the spores are ingested by humans by mistake, then they will be able to pass through the alimentary canal without causing any reaction in the body.

  • Environmental Safety:

The Bacillus subtilis 168 that we chose to use for this project has been a lab strain for 52 years therefore it has lost some of the genes which are important for them to survive in the wild like synthesizing tryptophan (auxotroph), an essential amino acid which due to reductive evolution, has lost the ability to produce it, thus it requires a medium containing tryptophan for its growth and survival (Zeigler et al., 2008). Although they are non-pathogenic, releasing genetically engineered bacteria into the environment has been an issue since the 1970s. There are numerous reviews which discuss the issues relating to the safety of introducing genetically engineered organisms into systems such as soil. One of our intructors (Prof. Anil Wipat) studied issues relating to the release of genetically engineered microorganisms into the soil as part of his PhD (Wipat A., 1990). Many systems have been proposed to try to ensure the safety of GM organisms in the environment. For example, we designed the kill switch genetic part which will allow the bacteria to kill themselves after sensing the environment around them. Therefore even if it escapes away from the lab, it will not be able to survive in the wild.

2. Do any of the new BioBrick parts (or devices) that you made this year raise any safety issues?

We do not see any safety issues for the new Biobricks parts that we made this year.

3. Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?

Yes there is a biosafety group at the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology and Institute of Cell and Molecular Biosciences, which includes the Institute Safety Officer (SSO), Biological Safety Supervisor (BSS), Genetic Modification Chairperson (GMC), Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS), Laser Protection Officer and Lab Heads. They have reviewed the safety of the lab from time to time during the duration of the project.

  • If yes, what does your local biosafety group think about your project?

They are aware about the whole project and they reviewed it thoroughly with the whole team. They discussed about each and every Biobrick part in detail and found no safety issues with it.

4. 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?

[1]Zeigler DR, Prágai Z, Rodriguez S, Chevreux B, Muffler A, Albert T et al. (2008). "The origins of 168, W23, and other Bacillus subtilis legacy strains". Journal of bacteriology, 190(21), 6983-95.

[2] Wipat, A. (1990). "Release and detection of geneticaly engineered streptomycetes in soil". Unpublished PhD thesis, Microbiology Department, John Moores University.

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