Team:Utah State/Safety


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USU 2012


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

a. Researcher safety?

All of the materials and methods used in our project pose no threat to the health and safety of our team. All of our biobrick parts were transformed into Escherichia coli DH5α/BL21, a non-pathogenic organism. We did not use any pathogenic strains of E.coli, nor were any of our biobrick constructs of any hazardous pathways. Our iGEM team conducts experiments using proper safety training, proper materials, proper safety equipment (i.e., gloves, lab coats…etc.), and is conducted in a BSL 2 rated laboratory.

b. Public safety?

Our team follows strict guidelines regarding proper material disposal. E. coli is being used as our host strain, thus no harmful or pathogenic microorganisms are being investigated in our lab and pose no threat to the public. All parts and devices are contained within vectors containing antibiotic resistance genes. Therefore, we are engineering a highly fastidious system that would not survive outside of a controlled laboratory setting, nor would it be harmful otherwise. Considering the fastidious nature of our E. coli strain, no safety issues will arise regarding public safety.

c. Environmental safety?

No environmental safety issues arise from our project. As mentioned above, proper laboratory practice is employed and all parts are present within vectors containing antibiotic resistance. These practices along with the fastidious nature of our system limit any environmental threat.

2. Do any of the new BioBrick parts (or devices) that you made this year raise any safety issues? If yes, did you document these issues in the Registry? How did you manage to handle the safety issue? How could other teams learn from your experience?

None of the BioBrick parts used raise any safety concerns. We operate under BSL 2 safety regulations, therefore no persons on our team are permitted to handle or manipulate anything of a pathogenic nature.

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?

Yes, Utah State University has an Institutional Biosafety Committee, linked here. We have discussed our project with the committee and they have approved our work. Since our laboratory is used for other synthetic biological research the approval was straightforward.

Utah State University has its own biosafety rules, linked here. The University has rules and regulations regarding the correct disposal and clean-up of biological waste material. All iGEM team members are trained by the Environmental Health and Safety department (EH&S) at Utah State University. This training covers basic laboratory safety procedures and practice. It is required that everyone (including graduate students and staff) who works in a laboratory at Utah State University take this day long course. In addition, all undergraduates were trained specifically on biological safety by experienced graduate advisors and faculty before they were allowed to work in the laboratory. For more information about Utah State University laboratory safety training please see this link. The United States has strict regulations and guidelines for biosafety. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has guidelines for working with recombinant DNA. See: NIH. The centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) also has guidelines for biosafety. See: CDC

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?

The basis of iGEM is to standardize biological part assemble, why don’t we standardize basic safety training as well? Every institute (and country) has different requirements for students to undergo safety training. We believe that a basic online biosafety course (consisting of photos and videos) through iGEM/Registry should be made compulsory for all students willing to participate in iGEM. Once students have successfully completed the online course they should be required to take a quick quiz to see if they learned basic biosafety. Upon completion of the safety course and quiz students would then be eligible to join an iGEM team. Bacteria that are used for iGEM purposes could be encoded with a ‘kill’ gene which prevents the bacteria from growing and reproducing outside of its designated environment.

Human Practices

Synthetic biology has always been a topic of ethical discussion throughout society and media. However, we want to show the community that our iGEM practices are executed for the common good of mankind. Societal pressure has molded negative connotations around the term ‘synthetic biology’ or ‘genetic engineering.’ We believe that if the scientific community as a whole can continually demonstrate the positive utility of our practices by making novel biomaterials and biofuels (for example) that are not only of high value to society, but also increase our quality of life while maintaining our principles, we can make genetic engineering a positive term throughout.

Our iGEM team has developed the genetic tools to produce spider silk in a transgenic, albeit a harmless strain, of Escherichia coli. Spider silk contains repetitive subunits of glycine and alanine which can cause great stress on fast growing microorganisms by depleting necessary amino acids needed for cellular functions. By supplementing the strain with a tRNA plasmid (used to prevent strain depletion by allowing it to still drive necessary physiologies) as well as the functional proteins necessary for spider silk production, we have produced this high value and remarkably strong spidroins in E. coli.

Regarding human practices, our iGEM team strives to implement a positive outlook on genetic engineering by expressing and demonstrating to the public the positive consequences of mass producing spider silk in recombinant bacteria. These positive consequences could derive from the production of medical sutures, ligaments, armor for military, sports equipment…etc. We believe that in order to convince the general public that genetic engineering can be utilized for the common good, we as the scientific community have to deliver commercial products that demonstrate the broader impacts of manipulating DNA as oppose to simply talking about it. In addition, our iGEM team has educated high school students from Utah and Idaho about bioethics as well as providing them with the basic methodologies for genetic engineering through our university’s Engineering State and Discover Biological Engineering outreach programs. By safely and effectively producing commercial bioproducts from recombinant bacteria, as well as educating young aspiring scientists, a confident outlook on genetic engineering will succeed over the current societal point of view.

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