We regard safety regulations as a necessity for our own well being and the environment. A high-quality solution of a problem is of no value if the damaged created exceeds the benefits of the solution.
Like any other work, the work in laboratories has its own workplace health and safety regulations. In our About Our Lab, About Our Project, and the Final Safety Form we described how we handle chemicals, microorganism and waste in our laboratory, and how we think our organism and bioreactor will be used by other people.
During the competition period we have collaborated and discussed about safety issues with many iGEM teams, but also with people from community labs and the industry.
Risks of our Biological Project
Our project falls into the category of metabolic engineering and our genetically modified cells are not intended for any use outside of an industrial facility.
On the other hand, handling genetically modified organisms and methanol in a production facility does require several safety measures.
Not only did we discuss biosafety throughout our project, but we were also very aware of working responsibly and safely with methanol in our growth experiments. Learn more about it on our safety form.
Risks and Chances for Methanol in the Industry
Methanol is an important part of the chemical industry as it is used for plastics, paints, glues, and pharmaceuticals. It is also increasingly used as biodiesel, as gasoline blends, and in fuel cells. But methanol belongs to “Flammable Liquids” Class 3.2 (Primary Class) and “Toxic Substances” Class 6.1 (Secondary Class)  so it is quite dangerous to handle. Problematic situations especially occur when methanol gets out of a continuous, closed system or when it gets transported to a different facility.
Consequently, there is the need to advance the methanol generating industry with a low proximity conversion system. This system will convert the methanol into a universal, complex, easy to handle and safe carbon source which is suited to be the starting point for a huge variety of industrial processes. As a result, the safety risks of using methanol are decreased remarkably while maintaining the high energy capacity of methanol.
Use of Modern Devices in the Lab
Even though biological laboratories in Germany are tightly regulated, biosafety is still a major concern to the public.
One question that we wanted to answer was: Are touchscreens a good idea in the lab?
tubefront is designed to be used with modern devices such as phones and tablets. But what about contamination risk when people use touchscreens in the lab? And how does it compare to computers with a mechanical keyboard?
To find out, we did a simple experiment: Sampling of microbes from keyboards and other surfaces in the lab.
- prepare 250 ml LB with 2 % Agar (2.5 g NaCl, 2.5 g Peptone/Tryptone, 1.25 g Yeast extract, 5 g Agar)
- sterilize the black chip-mold by wiping it with 70 % Ethanol
- fill the mold with hot LB and let it cool down for 1-10 minutes
- use a sterile (wiped with Ethanol) scalpel to cut along the markings
- move agar chips into sterile petri dishes with a spatula
- store at 4 °C
- using disinfected gloves, slightly press an agar chip onto the surface for 5 seconds
- put the chip back into the petri dish and incubate at 37 °C for 24 hours
- clean & disinfect the surface
- for analysis count the number of:
- bacterial colonies
- fungal colonies
In cooperation with team Slovenia HS, we took samples from different surfaces in the lab.
|Contamination of different surfaces|
Multiple samples were taken from different surfaces in the lab. After 24 h incubation at 37 °C the number of bacterial/fungal colonies was counted and averaged.
The average numbers of colonies per agar chip show that keyboards are among the most contaminated surfaces in the lab. Smartphone touchscreens are equally contaminated as the cover of a paper lab notebook. But while it is easy to disinfect a touchscreen, you wouldn't spray disinfectant on your paper notebook. Taking this into consideration with the increased productivity, reproducability and safety, we think that paper-based documentation systems should be replaced by digital documentation methods.
Community labs and containment strategies
Community labs do not undergo stricter monitoring than commercial (industrial, analysis) or institutional laboratories. Although people have a higher suspicion towards community labs.
We invited people from the Technik Garage, a community lab close to Hannover (Beckedorf), to Aachen and discussed via Skype call with the team Paris Saclay about biosafety in general and about strategies against accidentially introduction of GMOs into the environment, which is by far the greatest concern of the public.
To address that concern team Paris Saclay developed two containment strategies for GMOs, which could be used
by community labs as well. For more information about our discussions with community labs visit our Community Labs page.