Team:Queens Canada/Safety



Safety Questions

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

researcher safety?

The potential carcinogen and mutagen Ethidium Bromide was used during the process of gel electrophoresis. Standard lab safety protocols were followed when handling this substance, which includes wearing appropriate safety equipment as well as properly disposing or cleaning of contaminated material.

Because our project has potential bioremediation applications, we needed to deal with potentially harmful chemicals in our characterization process. A strong example would be the characterization our biobrick containing the enzyme haloalkane dehalogenase, which degrades 1,2-dichloroethane. Appropriate safety measures were taken when handling these substances, based on both the advice of our lab technicians and the MSDS.

We also ensured our safety through various education and preventative measures such as training for all lab members.

public safety?

While certain strains of E.Coli may be pathogenic and dangerous, the lab strains that we use are non-pathogenic and are therefore not hazardous to public safety. Even though this is the case, we work carefully and treat these organisms as if they were pathogenic, to ensure safety.

environmental safety?

As with public safety, we are working with E. coli strains that are non-pathogenic. Additionally, E. coli is a commonly found bacteria in the environment. Although our E. coli are cloned to have resistance to antibiotics for selection as well as our Biobrick parts, these do not present any evolutionary advantage over wild E. coli that are already suited for their environment. In fact, bacteria that are carrying antibiotic resistance will be disadvantaged when grown in a normal environment. Specifically, in our project, the incorporation of domains into bacterial flagella has been shown to hinder the ability of flagella to polymerize.

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

Did you document these issues in the Registry?

Yes, the safety issues arising from each biobrick part has been noted in the registry; as we work more on each part we will add additional security concerns as we see fit. Due to the nature of some our parts, dangerous chemicals such as haloalkanes will be used for characterization.

How did you manage to handle the safety issue?

For each of the chemical used for characterization, the proper protocol and PPE was put in place due to its relatively toxic nature compared to the organism itself. This included handling volatile liquids in the fume hood, wearing safety gloves and goggles as necessary. We also asked more qualified members of the lab before attempting anything that we ourselves were not accustomed to doing.

Each member of our lab also received biosafety training before the project began. This included general laboratory safety, biosafety, and hazardous and chemical spill training. In addition, all team members were trained by a lab technician on proper lab techniques and safety procedures.

How could other teams learn from your experience?

Many teams, particularly those in the environmental and manufacturing tracks, may be working with reagents or products that have some toxicity.

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?

Dr. Kenton Ko, the chair of the Biohazard Committee at Queen’s, and Dr. Chin-Sang, another member of the Biohazard Committee, are advisors for our team. Both are very familiar with our project, methods and safety considerations. The work being carried out by our team this year in Dr. Bendena’s lab is considered level 1. All iGEM members have had proper safety training. Good sterile techniques and proper disposal is essential. Dr Bendena’s lab is officially approved for level 1 work by the Biohazard Committee.

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?

To deal with safety issues in future iGEM Competitions, it may be beneficial to develop a biosafety standard data sheet, based off a similar structure as material safety data sheets. Similar to when you order lab reagents, an BSDS (biosafety data sheet) can be provided with the DNA, which can provide important information about the part in question, what it codes and any concerns with expression in certain chassis or potential hazards. These sheets may also include information about certain chemicals required to characterize or determine expression of parts.

As iGEM teams introduce new chassis, standard safety information can be made a requirement for future iGEM teams wishing to work with these chassis. This information can be provided on the parts registry and be linked from each part design for this chassis.

For example, past iGEM teams have worked with toxic materials in the characterization of heavy metal binding [1]. Currently warnings are listed on the part’s page. An iGEM team would most likely be aware of this when they are working on expression and characterization of the part. By standardizing this information, safety concerns can be communicated and referenced clearly and easily.


  • 2009 Groningen:
  • 2010 UIUC-Illinois:
  • 2010 Peking:
  • 2011 Tokyo-NokoGen:
  • 2011 Columbia-Cooper: