Team:Buenos Aires/Safety



Safety questions

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

  • researcher safety
  • public safety
  • environmental safety?

The main objective of our project is to be able to grow mixed cultures at defined proportions. This is a “proof of concept” to be done in controlled lab conditions an therefore there is no major security issue other than the usual ones when working with microorganisms.

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

The only part of our design that raises safety issues are the Trojan peptides, given their capacity to penetrate cell membranes. One of these peptides was originally identified in the TAT protein of the HIV virus. Although this may sound alarming, we are only using a sequence of 11 residues with well defined function in a completely different context. The DNA sequence itself is modified from the viral one as we codon-optimize it for yeast. The other Trojan peptide we are using is a polyarginine peptide.

Because of the potential (although unlikely) hazard of yeast strains expressing this peptides, we extreme our safety measures when dealing with these strains, avoiding direct contact with them or conditioned medium and discarding them as pathogenic residues.

In first place we made a detailed list of what we were doing exactly to the Health and Safety Department (HSD) at the University so that we got the approval to carry the experimentation at the universities´ facilities. In second place we handled carefully our materials following the official measures provided by the HSD. In third place we informed to the community during our presentation what our project was about and addressed any question or concern related to the use of genetically engineered organism at the instant.

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 HSD works as a biosafety control department and is formed by specialists in quality and safety control for laboratory and academic facilities. They have updated safety protocols that were handed to us after we filled a form that is mandatory for the use of the lab with the description of our project and materials. They actually thought our project was a great idea since they related it with similar projects held in the framework of regular classes (like Molecular Biology) and they made suggestions on the type of special cares we should have and of course they required a special responsible teacher to be in charge of a detailed control during the course of the months.

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?

  1. It depends on the type and quality of the submitted part, but it would be useful to make it mandatory to send together with the biobrick a form with ideas on how it could be a threat and what to do in the eventual case that problem occurred. It could even be an extra question on this safety form: What would be a possible contingence protocol in case that your biobrick degenerates or gets out of control during the use of it?. In this way, future teams that want to use that part will be able to analyze firstly the possible implications of using that biobrick in certain conditions and therefore be better prepared in case that they need a quick response.
  2. There should be a group of specific safety counselors that could be contacted by teams in order to receive advice and guidance and answer questions regarding specific protocols or parts. In this way every university would count with this help and not rely only in those that have a Safety Department that may not be aware of the kind of procedures involved in the lab.
  3. Promote the inclusion of some kind of standard bioID code in new parts (eg: bioBarcode)