Safety in iGEM Project

Safe Lab Work

We worked at Level 1 (low risk) laboratory because the only bacteria we handled were the strains TOP10 and BL21 (DE3) of Escherichia coli. The enzymes of our bacteria were foreign genes from the bacterial species of Clostridium, Haemophilus, Mycobacterium, Prochlorococcus and Bacillus but these extracted genes expressing enzymes for intermediates didn't contain any pathogen risks. Since these genes weren't available as BioBricks we ordered them synthethised. The gene synthesis companies are constantly Blasting the ordered gene sequences with the pathogenic ones so the shipping isn’t preceded if hazardous material is found.

Everyone in our team who worked in the lab had previous experience from lab work. They had also received mandatory training on how to work safely in the laboratory as a part of their studies. Some of the topics of this training include personal protective equipment, how to work with different chemicals and GMOs and dispose of them, how to mark reagents, and training on safety labels, biosafety levels, most common lab accidents and how to avoid them, different types of hoods, the importance of proper planning and cleaning up after oneself.

Additionally, we had a lab safety lecture held by an instructor specifically about the lab we worked in, covering similar topics (PPE, waste disposal etc.). All of our team members who worked in the lab took part to this lecture and the following round in the lab spaces. Furthermore, the location of first aid kits, fire extinguishers and emergency showers in the laboratory were shown to us by an instructor. None of our team members were allowed to be alone in the lab and work during nights or weekends always needed a permission from the lab personnel.

Our strain will produce highly flammable propane gas. The lower flammability limit is 1,8 % and upper 8,4 % of air volume based on a material safety data sheet (MSDS). In an earlier study, the maximum produced propane yield without extra oxygen addition was 0.5 mg/L which can be considered to be below flammable concentration. Still, the accumulation of propane was prevented with proper ventilation during the cultivation processes for GC-analysis and continuous production. MSDS must be read before handling the strain producing propane, as we did before starting propane experiments.

Safe Project Design

These questions were considered when evaluating the safety of our application:

Who will use your product? What opinions do these people have about your project?

Consumers will use propane as a fuel for vehicles and cooking. Most likely they would value the sustainable fuel and increasing options for commercial biobased fuels. Furthermore, the consumers would approve better ignition and combustion abilities.

Where will your product be used? On a farm, in a factory, inside human bodies, in the ocean?

The product will be used inside apartments and on-road traffic with light and heavy duty vehicles. Gaseous fuel has many safety regulations depending on the country, which need to be respected. For example, propane needs to be kept in a well-ventilated area. Greater amounts of propane need to be stored in a separate place, with appropriate warning signs.

If your product is successful, who will receive benefits and who will be harmed?

The overall population will get benefits from decreased CO2 emissions affecting to the climate change but it would be hard to determine how significant the impact would be. However, even the biofuels have the emissions of NOx, SOx and microparticles but when comparing to other biofuels, propane gas burns cleaner.

What happens when it's all used up? Will it be sterilized, discarded, or recycled?

Propane cylinders will be recycled to other uses or refilled by the services responsible about distribution. Consumers should not handle cylinder's valve if it is not connected to any device using propane as a fuel. Consequently, propane would not be straight released from the container into surroundings to cause a flammability risk.

Is it safer, cheaper, or better than other technologies that do the same thing?

It has the benefit of better energy consumption. Storing may contain more hazards compared to non-pressurized biofuels like ethanol but as the safe infrastructure already exists, consumers can trust that the new product is safe to use.

Did you face any safety problems in sending your DNA parts to the Registry? How did you solve those problems?

The parts were sent using UPS-services. The iGEM foundation included advices in the web side how to mark descriptions about safety in a package and documents. By 18.9, the shipment had passed all clearing agencies and had been delivered to Boston.