Team:British Columbia/Safety


British Columbia -

Safety Page

1. Would any of your parts or project ideas raise safety issues?

A. Risks to the safety and health of team members or others in the lab?
No. Upon assessment, our engineered parts present a very low risk to the safety of the researcher, public, and the environment. Every team member has completed the introductory laboratory safety courses.

The main chassis we are working with, a derivative from Escherichia coli K12, is a non-pathogenic strain. It is not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans and is of minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment. There are no special biosafety protocols researchers have to follow, other than basic treatment of equipment and materials coming into contact with the organism (autoclaving, etc.).

We will also briefly work with Rhodococcus erythropolis, which is also non-pathogenic. Like the E. coli strain we used, R. erythropolis posed no health hazards if normal biological laboratory procedures are followed.

B. Risks to the safety and health of the general public if released by design or accident?
As explained in part (a), none of the organisms, parts or created compounds are pathogenic, infectious, or toxic at the safety levels we are working at. The team is also following proper disposal procedures. Given that the E. coli we use are of the K12 strain or a derivative, these bacteria are of relatively small concern.

C. Risks to environmental quality if released by design or accident?
The only component of our project that may pose an environmental risk is the chemical reagents and products involved in the desulfurization process. Petroleum fractions and dibenzothiopene are potential pollutants but storage, bench work and waste disposal are being carried out in accordance with UBC's chemical safety procedures.

D. Risks to security through malicious misuse by individuals, groups or states?
At the moment, it doesn't seem very feasible to maliciously misuse our organisms or desulfurization reagents, since they don't pose a serious or immediate health or environmental threat.

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

No, we do not believe that the BioBrick parts made this year raise any safety issues. Our biobrick parts consist of genes in amino acid synthesis pathways, fluorescent proteins, and the Dsz desulfurization pathway. The amino acid components are easily found in the laboratory and in nature, while fluorescent proteins pose no threat to safety. Desulfurization pathway enzymes were originally isolated in 1990 and have since been extensively characterized. Their specific activities are not expected to be harmful to researchers, the public or the environment.

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?

A and B. Does your institution have its own biosafety rules? Does your institution have an Institutional Biosafety Committee? Have you discussed your project with them?
UBC's biosafety committee has the institutional biosafety rules on their biohazard policies website. They are part of the Risk Management Services at UBC which educates and ensures UBC staff follows safe laboratory procedures at all times. The biosafety committee governs whether or not research can be conducted at UBC. They are composed of UBC faculty, staff, a biosafety advisor and the manager of occupational safety. In order for research to be done, the principle investigator must submit an application that outlines: objectives, methods, procedures, biosafety, what work will be done and where, what materials will be used, and waste management procedures. After this is submitted, the UBC Biosafety Committee will either reject or approve the principle investigator to do his/her work. They are granted Biohazard Approval Certification for 4 years but they must renew their certification annually.

We specifically spoke with the safety adviser at UBC. We have the appropriate biosafety approval to do the wet lab portion of our iGEM project in the Life Sciences Centre at UBC. We are working in a lab that already has its principle investigator approved to do similar research and we are not testing new procedures which have not been approved yet.

C. Did you receive any biosafety and/or lab training before beginning your project?
Each student on our team has gone through basic laboratory safety courses put on by the Risk Management Services. The basic laboratory safety served to cover topics such as the Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS), biohazards, hazardous chemicals, and radioactive materials.

Graduate student advisors and other researchers have all received in-depth safety training in biological and chemical safety and trained and directly supervised iGEM members during project experiments. The team also established general safe protocols.

D. Does your country have national biosafety regulations or guidelines?
The Canadian government has 2 bodies which overlook each biosafety committee at Canadian universities. The first is the Public Health Agency of Canada. They published the “Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines” – a booklet that outlines all the rules which biological labs must follow. The second group is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which mostly deals with plants and animals.

Additionally, should we ever choose to commercialize and release a product, it would be into controlled reactor vessels of oil refineries. Even though the microorganisms are not directly released into the environment, we would have to go through numerous other agencies in Canada – most notably Environment Canada. It is only after strict screening and investigation that such a product would be allowed to be used commercially outside of laboratories.

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?

Biosafety is a major aspect of our project this year. We are focusing on two ways to limit safety risks posed by released organisms:

1) Distributed pathways -- By taking a single pathway and distributing the necessary pieces among various members of a microbial consortia, the possibility of the entire pathway being transferred to wild organisms drastically decreases.

2) Effective kill switches -- The use of tested and effective kill switch mechanisms will control engineered organisms that are introduced to the environment. Through the standardized evaluation of kill-switch efficacy, will aid iGEM teams in choosing the best system for their project. Such an evaluation will be made possible by the protocol that is designed and tested as a result of the collaboration between the 2012 University of Calgary and University of British Columbia teams.