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Revision as of 00:38, 25 September 2012

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With the emergence of the field of Synthetic Biology, certain ethical questions must be considered. The debate on the safety and ethics of synthetic biology is still ongoing, and it is therefore no surprise that every iGEM team is obliged to consider these issues. The iGEM organization asks questions about the safety aspect of a team's project, pertaining to the safety in the lab, the environment, and the public. We tried to answer these questions to the best of our ability. Most of our team members have lab experience and are aware of the safety regulations pertaining to working in a lab with GMOs, but we decided to explore the safety issue more in depth. In order to do so, we invited two authorities to give lectures and to assist in considering the need of safety during our iGEM project: Dr. J.S. Lolkema, biological safety officer at the Rijksuniversiteit of Groningen (RUG), as well as Prof. Dr. ir. J.D. van Elsas, member of the Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification.

We divided our safety page into four different sections. On the first page we focus on safety in the lab, we address the rules and regulations of lab work at the RUG pertaining to researcher safety and all things concerning the lab such as: the biobricks, microorganisms and the biosafety group.

On the public safety page we explore the safety of our sticker design and the public perception of the Food Warden system.

On the environmental safety page we elaborate on the risk and hazards of the our genetic modification. Furthermore we address possible effects on the environment and share our thoughts on developing a system to kill the Food Warden bacterium if it were to be released into the environment or after use.

On our last safety page we discuss food safety. We answer questions like: "how does one define rotten meat?" and show the importance of prevention of eating spoiled meat.

There is one question from the iGEM headquarters which was hard to put into one of our safety sections, which we would like to address here. This question is:

"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?"

We think it is important to find an alternative system for the antibiotic resistance markers used nowadays in the BioBrick system. Such a selection marker could be a harmless pigment, or other systems such as the widely used Red-White or LacZ screening methods. This takes away the risk of spreading antibiotic resistance by horizontal gene transfer.

When using proper lab techniques, safety measures, and of course common sense, a lot of possibly dangerous situations can be avoided. However, this is not always as straightforward as it seems. Every iGEM team that does wetwork has its own lab in the university, just as we do. Therefore, a random safety inspection by the iGEM organization would ideally be a good way to check if everyone does meet the basic safety regulations. However, since iGEM is a huge competition, we understand it would be troublesome to send a delegation to travel all over the world to do this. Nonetheless it could be an option to send iGEM judges or supervisors to neighboring universities, or make it obligated that iGEM teams are visited by an official Safety Officer.

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