1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of researcher safety, public safety, or, environmental safety? The bacterial strains used for research are non-pathogenic (XL-10 Gold Ultra competent Cells and DH5-alpha), indicating little risk to the research or public. The introduction of manmade biological parts into the environment is an inherent risk, mirroring those of all man-made technologies in biology: the introduction of constructed materials to the detriment of the natural environment. In addition to the bacteria, silicic acid is used to induce the formation of silica matrices on the biofilm surface. Silicic acid has no documented health effects, but its derivative, Silica, has been associated with silicosis, bronchitis, and cancer (Reuzel et. al, “Subchronic inhiliation toxicity of amorphous silicas and quartz dust in rats.” ) The context of these studies are in prolonged exposure above the Occupational Health and Safety Association limit of 0.1mg/m^3 in aersol and dust form. More relevant studies following long-term exposure to silica in water found correlation to dementia when settled with aluminum (Rondeau et. al, “Aluminum and silica in drinking water and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease…”). Because detached biofilm would polymerize added silicic acid into silica, those may pose a potential threat if consumed about OSHA recommended intake levels.

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

    Did you document this issues in the Registry?
    How did you manage to handle the safety issue?
    How could other teams learn from your experience?
Because the constructed parts do not contain or produce silica or silica derivatives, are hosted in non-pathogenic strains, and contain no expected selective advantage, they individually pose no potential threat. The parts up-regulate natural expression of the adhesion protein Curli and attach a membrane-spanning protein to the silica-polymerizing enzyme silicatein–alpha. Out of context of biofilm attachment for water purification, the parts pose no threat to the researcher, the public or the environment. Accordingly, no safety concerns were indicated in the parts registry, although future teams may wish to further characterize the silica matrix formation in terms of detachment in water flow in respect to health effects.

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

    If yes, what does your local biosafety group think about your project?
    If no, which specific biosafety rules or guidelines do you have to consider in your country?
Purdue University Institutional Biosafety Committee oversees the laboratories working with recombinant DNA technologies under the guidelines of the National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules, the Centers for Disease Control, and Purdue’s BioSafety Manual. Purdue’s iGEM Team functions under a Biosafety Level I designation, with all biological agents meeting the definition of Risk Group 1 and ‘unknown or minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment’. The Purdue IBC regulates the Team and its project as such.

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? To ensure biological safety in future iGEM competitions, a program screening sequences of DNA constructs against toxicity databases to alert the presence of a known hazardous element should be developed. This would be an easy and automated ‘first-defense’ for constructed devices.

References and More Information

  • Aluminum and silica in drinking water and the risk of Alzheimer's disease or coort"gnitive decline: findings from 15-year follow-up of the PAQUID > , Virginie Rondeau, Hélène Jacqmin-Gadda, Daniel Commenges, Catherine Helmer, and Jean-François Dartigues
  • Subchronic inhalation toxicity of amorphous silicas and quartz dust in rats , P.G.J. Reuzel, J.P. Bruijntjes, V.J. Feron, R.A. Woutersen,
  • National Institutes of Health Guildelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules
  • Purdue University Institutional Biosafety Committee