General Lab Safety
Safety is the top priority in our lab in Bluepha. Any individual who involves in experiments has gone through strict safety trainings, which cover aspects from general lab rules (clothing, eating, and drinking) to specific lab practice，such as the use of gas Chromatography in the detection of products. Three experienced research teachers Boxiang Wang, Yiming Dong, and Xuanyu Zhao oversee the training process and provide specific guides during experiments. To ensure the safety rules are tightly follow, we design a penalty system which charges anyone who breaks the rule a fine ranged from 10-200. This penalty system successfully decreases the rate of inappropriate and false practice and the money collected is used as funds for the project.
Fines for breaching lab rules
The lab we work is classified as biosafety level 1, which means that the microbes used pose little danger or even are harmless to human body. In particular, the microbes we use for the project are Escherichia coli (strain DH1 and DH5alpha) and Saccharomyces cerevisiae (strain BY4741), which pose no harm to individuals or environment. DH1 and DH5alpha are lab strains which cannot survive if escape and yeast is often used in food production. However, we do recognize that since the compound we use bioengineered microbes to produce is a common precursor for monoterpenes, the microbes might be used to produce dangerous chemicals if in the wrong hand. Therefore, we decide to insert a kill switch that is triggered under specific conditions designed by team RDFZ to solve this problem. In our lab, any practice involved direct exposure to chemicals or objects that can potentially cause harm is treated with due caution. For example, anyone who directly touches the electrophoresis gel should wear gloves and sharp needles or blades are collected in special boxes which is then sealed to be discarded safely.
Project Specific Lab Safety
Biosafety in the extraction
Some microbes are not completely separated with the nepetalctol during the extraction and then escape out of lab. In order to solve this problem, we plan to treat our extract from the culture with membrane filtration and employ the kill switch design by iGem team RDFZ.
Animal safety in hardware design
Since the problem that we aim to solve (feral cats rescue) and our hardware involve direct interactions, we pay close attention to any concern regarding the safety of feral cats. At the very beginning of project, we plan to test the optimal concentration of nepetalactone as cat attractants by conducting real animal experiments. While we are planning, the emails we receive from HQ help us better understand the animal ethics involved in this experiment and raise important questions in terms of safety. These questions make us realize that we are not fully prepared and qualified for animal experiments. Therefore, we decide to forgo our animal experiment due to safety reasons.
Safety is also treated with due attention thorough the design of our hardware. The idea of our hardware has been adjusted in regard to the safety of feral cats based on the feedbacks we gain from experienced and professional feral cats rescue team. We install a camera in our design to monitor the behaviors of cats inside it for safety reasons. The concentration of neptalactone in our hardware is low enough that it will not cause any aggressive behaviors among the cats. Besides, the electronic fans and neptalactone are completely separated with the cats in our hardware to avoid any danger posed by the direct interactions between cats and these components. Though currently our hardware is made of wood which is not fire-proof, we plan to switch it with more appropriate materials to eliminate this threat.
In order to ensure our kitty wonderland’s safety and smooth deployment, we surveyed a lot of people including citizens, NGO administrators and government officials. We made several improvements after the survey. Check out this video to know more!
GBC Documentary P4
The details of our final design lie in the next episode. Please check the hardware page in Human Practice. The previous episode is about our original idea of design.
The prototype we have used in human practice as demonstration of the Kitty Wonderland design did not contain nepetalactone essential oil or other chemical attractants. The cardboard cat shelter featured in the video only housed food and water for feral cats and a camera with its power supply. Our collaboration with street animals’ caregivers only existed in the form of joining their routine of feeding feral cats in the neighborhood, but not conducting animal experiments of any kind. Envisions of attracting feral cats with nepetalactone remains as a discussion in the product design and hardware sessions with no attempt at trials.