The University of Maryland iGEM team is committed to adhering to the high standard of responsibility in conducting safe and transparent science. As a result, our team has taken extra pre-cautions to ensure the safety of our members and the community through comprehensive safety training, additional safety measures during experiments, and a detailed analysis of our project’s impact on the community.
Safe Project Design
Our project is intended to be used as an Eco-friendly plasmid maintenance system for E. coli. This project seeks to address the current safety questions surrounding the sustained use of antibiotics in synthetic biology. The most prevalent method of genetically engineering E. coli involves the addition of antibiotic resistant genes in the final constructs to ensure the inclusion of plasmids of interest. While, this method is very effective, concerns have been raised about the possible negative outcomes of this practice. The use of these bacteria in the environment, or in the gut flora of animals could spread the prevalence of antibiotic resistant genes. This could eventually threaten the efficacy of many antibiotics as a viable treatment for humans and livestock. Furthermore, the use of antibiotics in a project designed for the inoculation of an organism with the E. coli could have negative health outcomes on the organism of interest. Therefore, because of these legitimate concerns, synthetic biology has largely been contained to the laboratory, leaving many noteworthy projects impractical due to these safety shortcomings.
Our Hok/Sok plasmid maintenance system is designed to overcome these limitations, advancing the feasibility of many synthetic biology projects on an industrial scale. The Hok/Sok gene has been studied in E. coli inhabiting the gut flora of humans. There is no evidence to indicate that Hok/Sok or any of our other Biobricks pose any risk to the health of humans or any other organisms. As a result, Hok/Sok can be used as a more environmentally friendly alternative that could appeal to even the most established organic farms.
Our custom made PCR also poses no significant risk to its users. However, this device should only be used with caution and under the supervision of an adult. As this machine is in its prototype phase, its inner parts are exposed to the surroundings. As a result, applying force or dropping the PCR should be avoided. This PCR machine has heating elements that originate from a commonly available hair-drier. However, as this device does contain electrical components, tampering with the electrical wiring could result in a fire-hazard. Therefore, users of this PCR should be wary of spilling water on the device or modifying the wiring. Even with these considerations, this PCR machine poses no greater risk than other commonly available household items such as toasters or hair-driers.
Safe Lab Work
Every University of Maryland iGEM team member is required to complete Chemical Hygiene training and Biohazard safety training through Maryland’s department of environmental safety. Furthermore, every member is required to adhere to the safety guidelines of the personal investigator whom is tasked with overseeing the team. Our team members are required to wear long pants, closed toed shoes, and protective eyewear at all times in the lab. Although this iGEM team is only working with BSL1 organisms, live cultures are frequently used. To reduce the risk of contamination, team members are required to wear nitrile gloves when handling samples and all hazardous wastes are autoclaved. The University of Maryland iGEM team strives to keep our lab as clean as possible. We are privileged to work in a lab at the University of Maryland and we want to set a good example of personal conduct for future iGEM teams at UMD.