Safety and security were of our top care during the design and execution of our project, our plan and activities went through several changes and validations to ensure it had met the safety requirements of the university as well as the iGEM organizations.
Before releasing works, we had made sure our operations met all the safety requirements and granted by the University. The University of Edinburgh Biological Safety Committee had created a safe system that would allow us to achieve our goals. For each of us, basic steps of individual project started with gene amplification, and went for cutting-and-ligating, then went for transforming into E. coli and went for bacterial culturing.
Compositions for plasmids constructing and parts building were partly from iGEM 2018 distribution kits with valid registry numbers, for example, we used the plasmid backbone pSB3T5 and pSB1C3, the previous parts BBa_K1149051, the rest gene fragments came from PCR or Gibson assemblies, which are native in E. coli DH5a and were transformed into E. coli BL21DE3. These strains are not harmful to humans and the environmental risk of them is low. The disposal of the cultures and any other related materials were carried following the School indications (e.g. autoclaving). Furthermore, the final product of the biosynthesis was purified and sterilised, therefore does not represent a risk.
Here, we are not only supposed to consider the safety and security issues related to us but more of thinking risks to the community and environment. We needed to think about the risks throughout our project and revisit those issues from time to time. Everyone, people and teams involved in iGEM should take responsibility to the projects, by referring to the iGEM Safety page to understand the policy and rules of iGEM.
Sharing with the Edinburgh UG iGEM team, we had a good time in the lab space and working place during iGEM at The Advanced Wet Lab Room, The Teaching Lab G128/129, and MSc Study Room of Peter Wilson Building, King’s Building campus. The labs are sufficient for nearly all of our experiments like PCR, Gibson assemblies, transformations, and restriction-ligation. In addition, we also worked in other places including JCMB and Roger Land building, King's Building campus in case of insufficient working places. All the activities taking place at above areas except The Teaching Lab G128/129 were supervised by correlated professors and staff, following the guidance on requirements for transports of biological materials.
For each team member who already had wet lab working experience for over 4 years, we still received sufficient safety training and had good laboratory practice, past the tests during the introductory week. During our working process, we always followed safety guidance produced by the Health and Safety Department of the University of Edinburgh. During the wet lab time, we always worked with lab coats and gloves, face masks were worn when required, like with powdered reagents such as kanamycin. Long hair was required tied back as always, proper devices and equipment like fuming cupboard and fan were used. When using the UV-light, the gloves and a UV protective screen were provided, as well as UV glasses.
For the risk assessment of single substance, group of related substances or a process/procedure as well as any proprietary purchased materials, we fulfilled COSHH forms and executed as indications. The biological agents were assessed and operated properly, there is no pathogen and toxin materials were used in our experiments. For containment controls, the biological hazards, the general waste from labs were treated separately. For all above guidelines and forms, every lab supervisor and student had to read, considered, signed and respected.
For each activity of our project, our lab technician Dr Annegret Honsbein prepared detailed protocols for us and modified them better against our conditions. Besides, all team members had discussed with Annegret about their own experimental plans separately to make sure safe and accurate operations. During experiment time, three lovely demonstrators always supervised and helped us. Other than that, we kept cooperation with Edinburgh undergraduate team to promise better works of each other. Other than the gene modification works, we also carried out tasks for products purification, as well as characterization of the products. For these experiments required for specialized equipment, substances and chemicals, we looked for advice from CTO (the Chemistry Teaching Organizations), the Edinburgh Genome Foundry, Dr Louise Horsfall and Dr Andrew Free, and operated following their suggestions.
Safety consideration was our first thought, lab workers and students were all respected all the safety requirements to promote safe works not only in the lab areas but also outside the campus, for example, when we were heading for local Scottish whisky distillery and meetings with other iGEM teams, supervisors always led and guided us.
In the project collaboration with the 2018 Iowa team, one of our newly developed parts was delivered to their lab to allow further characterisation and proof of concept for our project. To do this, it was necessary for us to ship parts internationally. We followed the iGEM DNA submission requirement to send off to IOWA team, declaring in the shipment statement that the package contained "DNA (non-hazardous, non-regulated, non-infectious, for research purposes only)". By accomplishing these, we believe we have handled our work with our international collaborators in a safe and professional manner.