Researcher Safety

The University of Westminster has a full range of safety documents relating to all laboratory safety issues. Protocols range from the appropriate behaviour in the laboratory to the correct procedure for handling spills. In the three floors where the laboratories are located, by policy it is not allowed to consume any food or drinks as a safety measure. All laboratory users are required to use protective equipment when working in the laboratory, such as laboratory coats, eye protection and gloves, and laboratories are subject to on-the spot inspections to ensure that the policies laid out by the University are being adhered to. All potentially hazardous materials are documented in COSHH forms (Microbial and Chemical) which the iGEM team are required to complete themselves. These COSHH forms are prominently displayed in the laboratory and are always carried with the researchers. We are using the DH5α strain of E. coli for amplification of our plasmids. This is a well-studied laboratory strain and is classed as Level 1.

All our experimental work is in the mammalian cell lines, MG63 and MCF7. MG63 is an osteosarcoma cell line (Level1) and MCF7 is a well characterised breast cancer cell commonly used as a tumor model system. Any risk due to contamination (bacterial, viral, prion) will be taken care of by following approved disposal protocols. Standard mammalian cell culture techniques are designed to minimise the risks of such contamination affecting users. Furthermore a strict- No White Lab Coats policy is in place when entering the mammalian cell culture laboratory. All BioBrick parts created and used are non-hazardous as none of them produce toxic levels of substances. The parts we are producing are mammalian promoter sequences. They are amplified from the mammalian cell line, HeLa. Promoters produced are ALDH1A1, ALDH1A3, ALDH2 and ALDH3A1. None of these are harmful. Doxycycline-induced mammalian promoter is amplified from a plasmid and does not produce harmful products.

Public Safety

The study is a proof of concept. Risk to public is minimal. The laboratory is kept locked when not in use. Mammalian cell culture laboratory adjoins our main working laboratory and is also locked. None of our transformants produce products which would be toxic to humans. DH5α is a laboratory strain and not associated with disease in healthy humans. Although bacteria would be transformed to have antibiotic resistance, it is not a strain which is able to thrive outside the laboratory. The mammalian cell lines used pose minimal risk to the public as do the products which they express.

Environmental Safety

DH5α is a genetically engineered lab strain which does not transfer genes and therefore poses minimal risk of transferring antibiotic resistance to other bacteria. The mammalian cells would not survive for extended periods outside the laboratory and therefore is of minimal risk.

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

No. The parts produced by our group have all been promoter BioBrick parts and they do not raise any safety issues.The first devise is designed for selective expression of reporter mCherry in Hygromycin resistant cells. The second device selects only for cells with high ALDH expression. The third device is designed to kill cells. A cre-lox system is induced using the inducible doxycycline promoter and this results in cells with high expression of ALDH becoming sensitive to ganciclovir, which are then killed. The devices are designed for use in the laboratory.

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

Yes, University of Westminster has a GM safety officer. The project was cleared as Containment Level 1. An ethics filter form was filled before the start of the project. All the chemicals and other materials used for the project are approved for laboratory use.