We did all of our experiments in Stanford’s Uytengsu Teaching Lab, a BSL-1 space, and the Stanford UTL’s Tissue Culture Room, a BSL-2 space. We wore personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves, long pants, close-toed shoes, and lab coats.
Mong Saetern and Jeffrey Tok are the UTL lab managers and gave us safety and security training before we used the space.
The specific strain of E. coli to be utilized is Dh5-alpha, a strain that is utilized for laboratory cloning due to its high efficiency transformations. E. coli does not pose a danger to colleagues, community, or the environment as it has been extensively documented through various research. Furthermore, proposed modifications that are being made to these organisms do not pose a threat to any of the stakeholders involved. Safety processes (proper PPE: gloves, lab coats, safety glasses, face masks) will be undertaken to ensure exposure risks are minimal.
We are working on detecting aflatoxin, a BSL-2 substance. We are working with this substance in a BSL-2 space. We are using aerated, filtered vials and biosafety cabinets to minimize risks of inhalation. We got approval from the Stanford Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) department to work with this substance.
While none of our parts are intrinsically dangerous, one potential utilization of our device is a bacterial spray that is able to detect the presence of aflatoxins in crops. Farmers should be able to utilize this new device and discover which crops have been infected with the toxin. Although we would be engineering bacteria that is present on the plant and not the plant itself, there would likely be concerns about the safety of introducing genetically modified organisms into the crop’s microbiome. We intend for the bacteria to be washed off during processing, but it is possible that some could remain. Because the remaining bacteria would be present in crops intended for human consumption, they might have unknown health effects that would pose safety and ethical concerns. However, the eventual chassis organism for this aflatoxin detection system on plants would likely be Bacillus subtilis, which is not pathogenic. There are no security concerns.