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

Researcher Safety?

To make liquid or solid media for Acidithiobacillus Ferrooxidans, around 1 mL of sulfuric acid is required per batch of media to bring the pH down such that the bacteria can survive. The safety of individuals is greatly minimized with the use of nitrile gloves and safety goggles as well as following lab dress code (shoes that entirely cover the feet and long pants) when dealing with the acid.

Public Safety?

Since the liquid media is disposed in labeled waste containers and the solid media in hazardous waste bins, they should not be released to the public. If they are accidentally released, there should not be any public safety issues because the pH of liquid media is around 1.8 and the pH of solid media is around 2.4 (these pH values are around the range of vinegar and orange juice). Also, Acidithiobacillus Ferrooxidans are classified as BSL 1 and are not known to cause any disease in healthy adults.

Environmental Safety?

Since the media and bacteria are disposed in waste containers and waste bins, they should not be released to the environment. But if they are accidentally released, the impact to the environment is minimal because the pH of the media are in the range of common liquids such as vinegar and orange juice. Also, Acidithiobacillus Ferrooxidans can only survive at low pH (about 1.8 - 4.0). Thus, they will degrade if released to the environment since the pH of water is higher.

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

None of the parts or devices that we have used during our project will raise any known safety issues.

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

The Chemical Engineering Department of Columbia University has an Advisory Board consisting of experts in biosafety, biosecurity, and genetic engineering who hold positions in academia, industry and government. They serve as our Institutional Biosafety Committee. The portions of the project to be carried out at Genspace are strictly BioBrick construction and the construction of plasmids containing metal-binding peptides and other non-pathogenic sequences. This is within the project parameters recommended by our Advisory Board.

Advisory Board Members

Interim Lab Safety Rules

Cooper Union does not have an Institutional Biosafety Committee, but the project has been reviewed by David Wootton, Ph.D., Director of The Maurice Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering and is being supervised by Jody Grapes, Campus-Wide Safety Officer for Cooper Union.

Students participating in this project received safety training (general/chemical/biological) either at Columbia University or Cooper Union prior to beginning the project. The safety training consisted of a presentation covering the various aspects of safety found in molecular biology laboratories; i.e. proper microbiological techniques, safe disposal of recombinant organisms, etc. Upon completion of the presentation, students were shown the location of all safety equipment i.e. eye wash stations, first aid kits, fire extinguishers and safety exits. Students were also supervised by iGEM instructors at Columbia University or Cooper Union throughout the duration of the project.

Laboratory Safety Guide [1]

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?

Manufacturing processes can be more environmentally friendly by using bacteria, like Acidithiobacillus Ferrooxidans, to manufacture computer technology, such as printed circuit boards, because the current manufacturing processes rely heavily on acids to do the etching on the boards. By switching to bacteria, only a small amount of acid is needed and the acid is used to keep the bacteria alive. The bacteria will accelerate the production of ferric ions and the ferric ions will react with pure copper to solubilize it. In this way, the bacteria is the primarily responsible for an etched PCB and not acid.

The Rio Tinto is a river in Southwest Spain and there is a site along the river that was subjected to mining for copper, silver, and other minerals using acids such as sulfuric acid. This lowered the pH of the river significantly to about 1.7-2.5. Coincidentally, Acidithobacillus Ferrooxidans are found in mines and survive at such low pH. Thus, they live in the river and convert ferrous ions to ferric ions, giving the river a red color that is present to this day. By genetically engineering a kill-switch in the bacteria when subjected to a certain color light, the bacteria can sefl-destruct and not continue to pollute the river.