Team:University College London/LabSafety



Lab Safety

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

Researcher safety

There are a number of standard lab reagents that we require the use of in our project, that are harmful on contact. These include:

Ethidium Bromide

Material Safety Data Sheet for Ethidium Bromide

Acute: Hazardous when ingested or inhaled, and is an irritant of the skin and eye. Chronic: In the long term exposure can have carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic effects, and can cause developmental toxicity.

Congo Red

Material Safety Data Sheet for Congo Red

Acute: Hazardous when ingested of inhaled, is an irritant of the eye, and an irritant and sensitizer of the skin. Chronic: In the long term exposure can have carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic effects, and can cause developmental toxicity.

Environmental safety

With regards to environmental safety there are many concerns, that are not restricted to our project, regarding the release of genetically modified organisms. The end point of our project necessitates the release of genetically modified Roseobacter into the ocean, where there is no possible physical containment of bacteria. This of course raises concerns as to whether the use of living machines may integrate into and alter the local ecosystem, and potentially spread. Furthermore there are concerns that the natural process of mutation found in bacterium may have an unpredictable effect in an organism that has already been genetically modified. As of yet, the release of GMOs on this scale has not yet been approved, but we hope that this project may push that boundary.

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

Issues regarding safety have been raised through a number of aspects of BioBrick construction. Firstly, for our Aggregation module the original BioBrick containing the curli cluster that we are improving contains a Cobalt dependant promoter meaning that in order to assess this and our BioBrick we required the use of Cobalt Chloride. Cobalt Chloride is very hazardous in the case of skin or eye contact, or inhalation, thus steps had to be taken to ensure the safety of team members.

In addition, part of our project aims to transform a number of our BioBricks into a marine chassis (Roseobacter denitrificans & Oceanibulbus indolifex). The most successful means of generating competent marine bacteria has been shown to be through electroporation rather than more traditional chemical competency. The major concern here is from the high voltages used in the operation of the apparatus.

Did you document these issues in the Registry?

As yet, neither of the above issues have been noted on the registry as the parts to which they correspond have not been submitted. Once the relevant BioBricks are ready to be added to the registry, the safety issues will be commented upon along with all other aspects associated with the part, it’s construction, and it's characterisation.

How did you manage to handle the safety issue?

Regarding the safety concerns associated with Cobalt Chloride, risk assessments were conducted in conjunction with the department safety officer to ensure that all team members concerned were aware of the risks of use and the steps they needed to take in order to minimise the possibility of any harm.

Discussions with experienced technical staff from the Structural and Molecular Biology department were carried out in order to ensure that there was no unnecessary risk to operators of the equipment. As mentioned above the main risk concerned with electroporation is the application of high voltages, and so using equipment only in accordance with established protocols and manufacturer’s instructions is essential.

How could other teams learn from your experience?

The risk of Cobalt Chloride is an established one and so I do not believe there is anything that we have done which any other team would not have had to do as standard practice. All that can be said is that it is essential to carry out risk assessments and consult with safety staff as early in the process as possible.

Electroporation on the other hand is a lesser used technique and so our experiences with the practice, once documented, should provide helpful information to future teams looking to use the method. This will become especially true as more teams look to use marine organisms as part of the iGEM competition, tackling issues such as those that we have approached in our project.

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

Yes - we have the Departmental Genetic Modification Safety Officer (DGMSO) and the College Genetic Modification Safety Committee, who must approve of our work before it commences. We complete risk assessments, which must meet UCL Local Rules, and we are all fully trained in lab work and monitored.

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

They are interested in our project, but have concerns about one of our Human Practice events - DIYbio - in which we proposed to carry out research into GMOs in the community. The efforts into assessing the safety of this project is ongoing, but we feel it would be a worthwhile venture. It may disperse some of the conventional worries harboured by the wider community about the use of GMO, and encourage more objective discussion. It would also bring science into the community, and we would present it in a way that makes it accessible to non-scientists.

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?

Biosafety is a crucial aspect of the iGEM competition. The potential for different types of gene transfer should be assessed, and researchers wary of the effect their system could have if released to the environment. As our project proposes the release of bacteria into the oceans, where they have the potential to interfere with the marine biosystem, we have designed a module for the containement for horizontal gene transfer. It consists of three toxin antitoxin pairs. In addition to that our system contains extracellular enzyme that is able to cleave DNA that is outside the cell.