The essential part of every iGEM project is its risk management and safety. As a part of the iGEM community, we took these issues seriously into consideration.

General lab safety

We carried out our project at Vilnius University Life Sciences Center laboratory which has a Biosafety Level 1 as we worked with well-characterized E.coli cells which do not cause disease in healthy humans and pose a minimal potential hazard to the environment. However, all the team members have completed general safety training required for such Biosafety level and passed a wet lab test.

All the biological laboratory work carries risks of various levels to the experimenter. To manage those risks we carefully studied and followed all the protocols concerning safety issues, including:

  • General lab safety: the team was introduced to procedures in case of emergencies, such as evacuation pathways, locations of fire extinguishers, as well as emergency showers and eyewashes.

  • Personal protection: working in the lab, the team always wore lab coats and gloves to minimize the risk of skin contact with possibly harmful substances; when using UV light (for gel imaging or sterilizing boxes and equipment) team members wore protective glasses.

  • Decontamination of materials prior to use, as well as waste disposal: the team was instructed with autoclaving procedures and waste disposal procedures according to the compounds used.

  • Chemical safety: team members carefully studied protocols to handle potentially hazardous chemicals (appropriate storage methods, working in a fume hood, etc.).

  • Prohibition of eating and drinking in the lab.

To reduce usage of harmful materials, we substituted ethidium bromide for SYBR Gold dye to stain DNA. Ethidium bromide is known as a mutagen which is toxic upon exposure. On the other hand, SYBR Gold seems not only safer but also more sensitive dye. However, because it also binds to nucleic acids, we treated it as a potential mutagen as well – we worked in an active fume hood and wore lab coats and gloves. The disposal of the product was carried out according to protocols and safety regulations.

Environmental considerations

Synthetic biology involves taking genetic material from various organisms and creating new organisms that may never exist in nature. Such organisms could have unpredictable impact on the environment if they escaped from the laboratory conditions. Due to this reason, iGEM has a strict Do Not Release policy our which our team took very seriously.

Even though our project does not result in a genetically modified organism (GMO) but we generated them for our basic cloning, transformation and PCR experiments. To fully understand what we were working with, we not only studied the biological parts we are working with, but also the organisms they came from and the organism they are transferred to (in our case E. coli strains). Those factors helped us determine that our project is required of Biosafety Level 1 and according means for handling the resulting GMO.

Examples of considered characteristics included:

  • Treats arising directly from the inserted part: assessment if the product of inserted gene has known biological or pharmacological functions that may cause harm (e. g. toxins, gene expression regulators, oncogenic gene sequences, antibiotic resistance, allergens, etc).

  • Pathogenicity of the host strain, consequences of exposure and availability of treatment.

  • Whether our modifications could increase pathogenicity of the resulting GMO.