More and more teams are working with samples from the environment (such as soil or water samples), the food industry (such as meat or blood from a butchers) or other non-traditional suppliers (including samples from team members). iGEM is keen to ensure that teams work with these samples safely and securely. Unlike materials commonly available inside the laboratory (such as cell or tissue cultures, isolated biological agents, or laboratory bred animals), someone else is unlikely to assessed any risks from these samples.
You will need to think carefully about potential pathogens in your samples. Most of the biological materials you come into contact with in a lab have been certified to pathogen free (or the pathogens identified and appropriate risk management measures determined). Samples brought into the lab from outside could include pathogens, toxins or other risks to you, your colleagues, communities or the environment.
- There could be safety risks - for example there are common pathogens that can infect both animals and humans (zoonotic agents). Samples from animals, including those butchers, might contain pathogens that could make you sick.
- There could also be security risks - many pathogens controlled because of their potential for misuse (such as those on export control lists, Select Agents in the US, or Schedule 5 agents in the UK) can also be found in nature. For example, a soil sample might include spores from Bacillus anthracis It is possible that an environmental sample includes pathogens that would require you to take specific security precautions.
In general, iGEM teams should assume samples from the environment, food industry or other non-traditional suppliers could include pathogens. As a result, they are not on iGEM's White List and teams planning to use them need permission from the Safety and Security Committee. A Check-In Form must be submitted before using these samples. Teams should pay particular attention to explaining the measures, procedures and practices they are using to identify any risks from the samples and how these risks are being managed.
- University of Hong Kong - Work with Potentially Infectious Samples including Blood, Blood Products, Human Tissues and other Clinical Specimens
- Rodriguez et al - Virus hazards from food, water and other contaminated environments, FEMS Microbiology Reviews, Volume 36, Issue 4, 1 July 2012, Pages 786–814
- Public Health England - Swabs and other environmental samples: detection and enumeration of bacteria
- Arizona State University - Safety Guidelines for Field Researchers
- University of Central Florida - Field Research Safety Guidelines