Safety Questions

1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of: researcher safety, public safety, or environmental safety?


Escherichia coli (TOP10): BSL 1
Citrobacter braakii: BSL 1
Bacilus Subtilus: BSL 1

No. Our project does not raise safety issues in terms of researcher safety. We extracted phytase genes from non-virulent E.coli , C. braakii , and B. subtilus host organisms in a Biosafety level 1 environment. Phytase genes from Aspergillus niger were not extracted but synthesized using Gibson assembly; thus, we did not have contact with the A. niger itself. The Pgad gene was obtained from the 2011 HKU team in a plasmid, thus we did not have contact with lactococcus lactis bacteria as well. Even if the project does not go as planned, there is very little risk to any researcher as all the reagents, genes, and bacteria used in the experiments are safe and non virulent.


No. Our project does not raise safety issues in terms of public safety. While the goal of the project is to increase the bioavailability of iron through the degradation of phytate in the digestive system, the actual risks of exposing bacteria to the human digestive system are extremely low. People consume bacteria every day, many of which have beneficial effects such as the numerous probiotics in yogurt. Thus, consuming one more type of bacteria should not be an issue. Even if our bacterium was released or misused, it contains no virulence genes that could harm the public. Because of this, our engineered organism exhibits a low public safety risk.


No. Our product will not be exposed to the environment because it is designed to be used in fermented food stocks, specifically yogurt stocks. In the event of a spill, our engineered organism does not produce toxins and should exhibit a low environmental safety risk.

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?

No, none of the BioBrick parts that we made this year raise safety concerns. If additional safety issues arise over the course of our continuing work they will be noted and documented.

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?

The Northwestern University Office for Research Safety (ORS) and the Northwestern University Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) work together to ensure safe and ethical research practices in the Northwestern community. Although we did not discuss our project with the ORS and the IBC, we worked under the supervision of advisors whose labs have received IBC approval. If we had gone to the ORS and IBC for review, we would have addressed any safety issues in terms of researcher, public or environmental safety as discussed in greater detail in the previous questions.

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?

Dealing with safety issues is a critical part of iGEM and bioengineering in general because the field is new and standards of safety are not well established. One idea that would improve the established safety standards of iGEM would be to increase the safety documentation of parts in the parts registry. Currently, iGEM teams are not required to submit any sort of safety datasheet along with the genetic and performance reliability data on parts. By requiring teams to submit a standardized safety datasheet on each submitte d part, the parts registry will not only become a more valuable resource for future iGEM teams, but will also serve as an example in the bioengineering community on how to consistently establish safety standards in a large scale fashion.