When it comes to human practice in synthetic biology there are many issues and precautions that must be considered. At the end of the day you are creating a novel organism in a lab and how it reacts outside of a lab can be very different from what you would expect given the immense number of variables to consider. Our team has created the means to produce theoretical organisms given a desired input and output. While no organism is actually created, we give the information needed to design a novel organism of choice along with the stoichiometry of the reactions going on within it. In this regard we are doing the same thing as the wet lab teams are doing, which is creating new cells; therefore, the same safety measures must be taken.
Certain safety precautions must be taken in order to ensure that an organism does not continue to grow rapidly and multiply exponentially out of control and upset the order of balance in an environment. A safeguard to prevent this scenario could be to analyze the balance of ATP produced in order to see if the energy production is too high, in which the organism would grow out of control, or low enough that the organism would be present for a small while before dying off.
ATP is the energy within a cell and a majority of what it relies on to flourish. By limiting ATP produced we lessen the chances of a cell growing vigorously and being a potential danger to the environment. The actual means to prevent this is by creating a script that will analyze ATP consumption and production. With this information, you are able to adjust the ATP metabolism in whatever way you want. You will be able to keep the production low enough so cell processes can still occur and allow the cell to grow to an extent but not high enough that it can potentially grow out of control.
This ATP balance is not hard to do. If you have a stoichiometric matrix of the cell or are able to analyze the ATP processes going on then you have the necessary information to control the cells' growth. By analyzing the ATP you can create a positive-negative balance. If the ATP produced is in a positive range then the cell will potentially have too much energy and will grow wildly. If negative you can assume that your cell will eventually die out.
There are many variables to consider when creating a novel organism and even more when you are talking about integrating a cell into an environment. It is almost impossible to be certain how a new cell will react in the environment; it is fairly likely that a long term effect would be detrimental. By having an ATP balancing system you can adjust the ATP so that the cell can fulfill its purpose and then die off shortly after. This is a critical safety precaution and should always be considered when talking about introducing anything new to a new environment. By implementing this guideline in synthetic biology, you would be one step closer in integrating it with the environment.
Q1: Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:
- researcher safety,
- public safety, or
- environmental safety?
A: Environmental safety is the issue that comes about with our project.
Q2: Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?
A: There is no biosafety group that we are aware of.
Q3: What does your local biosafety group think about your project?
A: Had there been a biosafety group, they would probably be able to see the benefits of our project to have in many aspects of science, health and environment as long as necessary environmental safety measures are taken when implementing the information our program provides.
Q4: Do any of the new BioBrick parts that you made this year raise any safety issues?
- If yes, did you document these issues in the Registry?
A: We did not create any new BioBricks.