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Project - iGEM Bordeaux 2012

iGEM - Bordeaux - Safety

The Bordeaux team is really concerned about safety of the team members and of the environment. Here are our answers to the four safety questions about our iGEM project. Our experiments were led in the lab of Denis Dupuy, located in the IECB (European Institute of Chemistry and Biology) among other labs and team.

General safety

1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:
  • researcher safety ?
  • Our project relies on working with DH5α strains of Escherichia coli. This bacteria is not dangerous for the operator, however it is advised to work under an extractor hood, to wear gloves and wash hands afterwards. The project aims at creating a communication path between cells. To make this work, we used genes from bacteria mainly from quorum sensing. The colors will be generated by proteins that are not dangerous (GFP, mCherry), nor are the molecules signals. The only safety issues are about the experiments themselves.
    As in any lab, some products can be dangerous for the researcher. About our project, the most dangerous products used were ethidium bromide and chloramphenicol powder. The operator had to work wearing a lab coat, gloves and glasses under an extractor hood. To prevent burns, thick gloves are available to manipulate anything very hot or very cold.

  • public safety ?
  • The communication between cells will be seen thanks to the expression of different colors, depending on the location of the bacteria in the plate. Thus, our transgenic bacteria are not meant to be used in any applications, so it raises no safety issues in terms of public safety. To make this work, we used genes from bacteria mainly from quorum sensing. Thus, even if our bacteria should mutate or not work as expected, no harmful molecules could be released.

  • environmental safety ?
  • We work with strains of Escherichia coli. These bacteria are genetically modified and thus resistant to some antibiotics. Then we must be careful about not releasing it in to the environment even if it cannot grow easily outside the lab. The unused cultures or remains have to be inactivated with bleach. A room is dedicated to the manipulation of bacteria. The manipulations were done in this room under another extractor hood. The incubators are also located in this room so no one has to carry cultures in and out of the room.
    Any waste is eliminated in the right way: biological waste goes in a special bin, chemical waste in another one; glass and broken glassware are collected separately. Wastes containing ethidium bromide is collected and treated by a private society.

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

    No, all our biobricks are safe to use, and cannot produce any dangerous molecules.

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

    At our institution, no biosafety group is reviewing the project. However, we have persons responsible for the safety questions we can talk to whenever needed. These people are in charge of checking all safety rules from our country are applied. They are also in charge of checking that wastes are eliminated the right way in order to protect the environment. All the materials related to safety (extractor hoods, culture rooms…) are also verified as demanded. The lab is closed to external people, and we never work with opened windows. The lab has obtained all the authorizations to work with genetically modified organisms as demanded by the French and European laws.
    All safety rules about working in a laboratory and how to behave in case of accident are posted on the walls and the doors.

    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 ?

    Some more rules are applied in our own lab. Some of them are from common sense; some other could give ideas to other teams. It is forbidden to bring any food or drinks in the lab.
    It is forbidden to work isolated and outside the presence hours (Monday to Friday: 7a.m to 8p.m). If someone has to work outside the presence hours, he must not be left alone in the lab and come with a permanent from the lab (teacher, engineer, or technician). It is also possible to use a phone with a direct line to someone who will check if everything is alright and can come if something goes wrong.
    The emergency exits must remain opened. In case of alarm, everyone has to go out by the closest exit. People are in charge of checking that no one is left inside the building, so it is not an individual responsibility to check for anyone else. If someone is hurt, burnt or sick, the security center is in charge of taking care of the problem and give first aid. The phone number of the security center is written above the phone and on the doors. It is advisable to record this phone number in the mobile phone memory. If it is not possible to call, start the fire alarm in order to get help.

    The main point of iGEM is to make undergrad students work in a lab. However, depending of the year and the formation, some students don’t know how to behave in a lab. Some guidelines are international. Maybe writing a document about “first time in a lab” could help to avoid accidents like exposure to chemicals.