All iGEM Teams are asked to address some safety questions posted in the safety page in order to demonstrate that their projects are safe. This section is dedicated to handle with these safety issues in the context of our project.

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

  • Research safety: Our project involves handling and gene manipulation of Escherichia coli (Strain DH5α), Synechococcus elongatus PCC7942, Aliivibrio fisheri and Chlamydomonas reindhartii. The four of them are included inside the Basic Biosafety level (1), which means that they do not cause diseases in healthy adults and standard microbiological practices can be used in their manipulation. There is no risk for any of the members because our lab has all the required equipment for handling with these organisms (European Union ISO Standards). Moreover, each of us was provided with a full guideline about Biosafety before starting with the lab work.

  • Public safety: In any case our final design involves the release of any microorganism. In case of an accident none of the organisms we are working with raise any concerns regarding public health since they are non-pathogenic.

  • Environmental safety: Our final product is an engineered Synechococcus capable to export sucrose and AHL (a signaling molecule involved in cell communication) as well as Chlamydomonas producing bioluminescence, all of this products are not dangerous for the environment, so we don´t see any important environmental risk in case of accident. In order to ensure this we still have thought about a mechanism to avoid accidental release of our product in the environment: working with an auxotroph strain of Synechococcus and Chlamydomonas unable to grow in the absence of a specific metabolite or condition (e.g. high CO2 concentration).
    Moreover, we use wild Aliivibrio fischeri, so it has no risk to environment in case of escape because it is a marine microorganism. The only problem could be an escape near the sea, but in case of installing our product there we will create a security system. It would be a container with distilled water surrounding the exchange area so all bacteria that should be retired flowed into the container. Anyhow, it is a strain naturally occurring in coastal sea waters, so it won’t alter in any way the ecologic structure.
  • Risks to security through malicious misuse by individuals, groups or states: The parts we are using are not dangerous by themselves, but there is always an implicit risk in such projects that others use some of the parts to construct unethical systems.

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

No, none of our new Biobrick parts raise any safety issue. However, if we find any safety issue we haven´t consider yet we will document it properly in the Registry.

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

By the moment there isn´t any biosafety committee in our institutions that could deal with Synthetic Biology issues, but we are following the specific biosafety rules that have to be considered in our country, which include a wide list of biosafety and laboratory guidelines from the National Institute of Security and Sanitation at Work, (INSHT, Instituto Nacional de Seguridad e Higiene en el Trabajo). Some of these guidelines are listed below.

I. Biological risk prevention in the laboratory: Work with Bacteria
II. Biological risk prevention in the laboratory: Work with viruses
III. Biological risk prevention in the laboratory: Work with Fungi
IV. Risk prevention in the laboratory. Use of personal protective equipment
V. Risk prevention in the laboratory. Devices for action and protection in emergency situations
VI. Exposition to biological agents: Safety and good laboratory practices
VII. Risk prevention in the laboratory. Organization and general recommendations
VIII. Technical guidelines for assessing and preventing risks related to biological agents exposure

However, we have a bioethics team at the UCV Instituto de Ciencias de la Vida and we have had an interview with them to explain our project. They seemed to see no major concerns on it.

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?

It would be interesting to create a suicidal gene, something like a strange metabolite that if isn’t in the medium, induces the death in the case of an escape.