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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:

We worked in the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology (CBCB) at Newcastle University for the entire project, where there are clearly defined safety rules and regulations that all laboratory workers must follow. One of our advisors, Dr Wendy Smith, guided us through the first introductory week, before any laboratory work began. This included carrying out the following risk assessments to determine what control measures would be required.

(i)Chemical Hazards: At the beginning of the project written risk assessments were already available in the host laboratories for all procedures that involved potentially hazardous chemicals. These risk assessments were reviewed and the recommended control measures were strictly followed throughout. No additional chemical hazards specific to this project were identified.

(ii)Radioisotopes and carcinogens: None of them were used in this project.

(iii)Biological hazards: Throughout the project, we used the Escherichia coli strain DH5α and the Bacillus subtilis strain 168. Wild-type E. coli is classified as a hazard group 2 pathogen by the UK Advisory Committee on the Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP). However, E. coli strain DH5α is derived from a laboratory strain E. coli K12 strain, which is recognised as disabled and equivalent to an ACDP hazard group 1 organism (i.e. unlikely to cause disease). E. coli K12 and its derivatives such as strain DH5α are unable to colonise in humans or animals and consequently pose negligible risk to human or animal health. Wild-type Bacillus subtilis is classified as an ACDP hazard group 1 organism and its derivative B. subtilis strain 168 has disabling auxotrophs mutations (e.g. conferring a requirement for tryptophan, Zeigler et al, 2008) that makes it even less likely to colonise or cause harm to human or animal health. The potential of any sequences cloned into these bacterial hosts during the project to pose additional hazards was also assessed. None of these sequences were associated with pathogenic traits or traits that might significantly enhance the survival outside the lab. Therefore, no specific safety issues, other than those associated with use of any non-pathogenic microorganism, were identified. It was concluded that containment level 1(CL1) would be sufficient to ensure researcher safety. Nonetheless, all work was carried out in strict compliance with the host laboratory's standard safety procedures, which were more stringent that those required for CL1.

(iv)Other hazards: The project also involved conducting some work in the Engineering structures laboratory, where we made and broke concrete 'blocls'. Appropriate safety regulations for the type of work in this laboratory were followed. 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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