Mission statement: “The Michigan Synthetic Biology Team strives to advance the collective understanding of biological sciences in a safe and secure manner.”
Our project idea itself does not raise obvious safety concerns, but the efficiency of the recombinase system should be tested before toxic or hazardous genes are placed into the system. Additionally, while the recombinase HbiF is itself non-toxic, it may induce or promote fimbriae formation in Escherichia coli; care must be exercised when handling vectors containing the HbiF gene.
Our project utilized ethidium bromide, a suspected mutagen, in DNA gel electrophoresis to visualize bands of DNA on an agarose gel. To prevent contact with ethidium bromide, it is stored and used in a designated area. Ethidium bromide contaminated waste, such as used agarose gel, were disposed in clearly marked designated waste pails provided by the University of Michigan Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH) and properly disposed of by the campus Hazardous Materials Management program. Latex or nitrile gloves were used when handling objects containing or contaminated by ethidium bromide.
By using Escherichia coli, our project also generated biologically contaminated wastes, which were disposed of according to OSEH safety guidelines. Generally, solid and liquid biologically contaminated wastes were first sterilized with autoclave, and then disposed of as regular waste. Any surfaces that may have been contaminated were washed with a 10% bleach solution.
The Michigan Team strictly follows the NIH Guidelines for Research involving Recombinant DNA Molecules from the Office of Biotechnology Activities. We strive to minimize the possibility of accidentally releasing Escherichia coli cultures transformed with constructs or the uptake of the construct-containing vector themselves by non-laboratory hosts. Our project falls under the Escherichia coli K-12 Host-Vector 1 Systems, which bars the use of hosts that are capable of propagating genetic materials to other bacteria, conjugation-proficient vectors or transducing phages (Appendix I). As per requirement, all of our members in the lab are certified by OSEH for completing the Laboratory Safety and Bloodborne Pathogen training.
Team Michigan believes that reducing safety hazards starts with prevention. This year, we documented our assessment of the potential personal, social, and environmental safety concerns arising from our project. The document is submitted to the University of Michigan IBC for review, and from whom we received overwhelmingly positive feedback. We also set aside a meeting this summer to evaluate and discuss the biosafety concerns surrounding components of our project. It is important to advocate biosafety to all the members on the team, regardless of whether they have taken the OSEH Laboratory Safety Training course or not. We believe each iGEM team should set aside at least one mandatory meeting for all members to be educated and made aware of the potential threats or safety concerns the project causes. It is also crucial that all members understand that doing a risk assessment not only educates them, but connects the members to the larger community of synthetic biology -- these projects are not solely limited within university borders; it can be applied directly to the society of synthetic biology. As we found from doing our risk assessment with our team members, there was a greater enthusiasm for synthetic biology when realizing and communicating the impact the project may potentially have to the outside world.
A good reference for biosafety regulations in the United States: National Institutes of Health 2009 Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) 5th Edition, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; HHS Publication No. (CDC) 21-1112.