Safety comes first. Indubitably, that statement holds true even more so in regards to research. We must first make all aspects of our project and lab completely safe before proceeding. The dangers to safety present themselves as a Cerberus, whose three horrific heads snap at biosafety, biosecurity, and lab safety.
To have complete biosafety, we must protect ourselves, others, and the environment from any potential harm. We keep everything within the TAS labs, where the flow of substances can be tightly controlled. The TAS lab is classified as biosafety level 1, according to the WHO Laboratory Biosafety Manual, which means it involves nothing that is potentially harmful to researchers if they take general precautionary measures (just E. coli). Obviously, no pathogenic organisms are used. This helps ensure the researchers' safety, as well as that of the public and environment.
Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:
Very few hazardous chemicals and solutions are used in the TAS research lab. For instance, we don't use EtBr for gel electrophoresis. Instead, we use a safer nucleic acid stain called Seeing Safe DNA Dye. Nevertheless, all chemicals and solutions are still treated with all due respect care and caution. MSDS are stored on our lab computers and in a folder on the lab technician's desk. All members of our iGEM team were trained for lab safety in all aspects for months before starting our project, and we have many capable instructors to guide us as well.
While working with E. coli (DH5alpha), we follow safety rules set by our lab instructor. Some rules include wearing gloves and lab coats during experiments, washing hands with soap after experiments, performing experiments under adult supervision, no eating and drinking in lab, learning how to safely dispose bacterial liquid waste, how to dispose used tubes, eppendorfs and plates, disinfecting lab benches with ethanol after experiments, and learning emergency responses such as the eyewash and emergency shower.
The TAS research lab is situated on the ground floor, to protect researchers from strong coastal winds, as well as sparing us the danger of scaling stairs. When we do have to maneuver up and down the dire straits that are staircases, we all know to descend stairs the way the way we ascend them. By facing the actual stairs, we minimize the imminent damage when we fall.
E. coli strains that are used have very limited abilities of survival outside the lab. Hence, they are highly unlikely to survive or disseminate. Therefore, there is no specific environmental risk associated with the E. coli strains. Nevertheless, we still regulate the trash disposal, assiduously sorting waste into the correct bins, neutralizing liquid waste with bleach before disposal, and autoclaving for sterilization.
WHAT RISKS MIGHT YOUR PROJECT POSE, IF IT WERE FULLY DEVELOPED INTO A REAL PRODUCT THAT REAL PEOPLE COULD USE? WHAT FUTURE WORK MIGHT YOU DO TO REDUCE THOSE RISKS?
If our project was fully developed into a consumer product, the potential risk involved is accidental release of bacteria into the wild if the bandage were to fall off. This problem is addressed by introducing a biosafety circuit that leads to bacteria cell apoptosis if the bacteria leaves the bandage agar. Furthermore, we envision a potentially alternative drug delivery approach that utilizes a cream to prevent the need for consumers to come in contact with the modified bacteria. Instead of having bacteria in a bandage, we may extract and purify the proteins. The proteins would then be mixed into a cream and the final product would simply be a cream with our Granzyme B inhibitor.
Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?
TAS does not specifically have its own local biosafety committee, but it has regular biohazard pickups for nurses, PE, and science departments. However, there is a biosafety committee at NYMU (NYMU Center of Environmental Protection and Safety and Health). Before starting our project, our advisor trained us on biosafety and lab safety. In fact, general safety rules of laboratory use are taught in every science class at TAS.
Taiwan has national biosafety regulations, which can be examined at:
Do you have any other ideas how to deal with safety issues that could be useful for future iGEM competitions? How could parts, devices and systems be made even safer through biosafety engineering?
For TAS, we should definitely set up a local biosafety group, committee, or review board. For the public, people fear the unknown, which is why there have been some opposition to synthetic biology. Thus, an effective way to deal with safety issues is to spread public awareness on the specifics of lab work. In this, we would explain how we keep research safe for us, the public, and the environment. With this, iGEM is presented to the public in a reassuring light. Safety in biological engineering is analogous to safety in mechanical engineering. As iGEM and synthetic biology develop and grow, they have the knowledge of the growth and establishment of the industrial revolution. We can learn from this, and hopefully solve, not create, pollution.