The very nature of research implies that safety must be a primary issue. Even the most obscure result might have some human interface. Ethics and safety are often closely interwoven – our responsibility for safety in research is as much moral as it is professional – and there are safety practices to be observed at every stage of the design process.
The iGEM team 2009 Slovenia addressed the issues of safety concerning this year's project at all phases; from the design of the project, through experimental work as well as further impact of our results on future research activities. Furthermore, the public and the environmental safety were considered.
At the beginning, we performed a self-evaluation of the proposed project and estimated potential safety risks to the researches, public health and environment. Based on the self-evaluation, the project team was divided into several sub-groups of students whose work was closely supervised by a senior mentor. All mentors involved in the project were trained for supervising of students and also are holders of license for work with biological material and chemicals. The work in smaller groups proved to be safer and more efficient. Before the onset of the laboratory work, all team members participated in a course on Occupational Health and Fire safety and pass the nationally recognized exam.
Local and national bio-safety committees and novel potential safety issues associated with Biobricks
The project and the self-evaluation of safety risk were reviewed by the Department's biological safety officer. Mainly, the officer's task is to asses if the mentors are qualified to supervise the proposed research and whether the laboratories hold the nationally required licenses to host the proposed research. The National Institute of Chemistry holds a license to work with the genetically modified organisms. The local bio-safety officer also evaluated new risk assessment for all new Biobrick parts and work related with them. Project this year included mainly production of recombinant polypeptides in the strain of E. coli, which is considered to be safe and is performed daily in the lab at the National institute of chemistry.
Safety and bionanomaterials
The impact of bionanotechnology and bionanomaterials is like to predict future. We should never underestimate the impact of bionanomaterials on human life and environment. We do expect that the bionanomaterial will promote better life; although we have to consider also potential hazards.
With rapid development of nanotechnology and the increasing presence of nanomaterials in our life, the safety must be considered a top priority when evaluating potential applications. To date, not many studies have investigated the toxicological effects of nanomaterials on organisms, and no clear guidelines exist on how to quantify these effects. To evaluate the toxicological and safety effects of nanomaterials remain a challenge in the future. At first glance however bionanomaterials seem to be much safer than inorganic nanomaterials, particularly those involving metals.
Biological polypeptides (collagen, elastin, keratin...) built on the principle of self-assembling are widely used in the nature. The aim of our project was to prepare different artificial self-assembled bionanostructures composed exclusively of polypeptides. We believe such a material is potentially less dangerous than other types of nanoparticles.
The end goal of our iGEM project on bio-nanomaterials is to improve the quality of life and provide the basis for the described applications.
Synthetic biology and safety
The field of synthetic biology is defined as the engineering of biological components and systems that do not exist in nature and are re-engineering of existing biological elements. The basis of research in synthetic biology is a modification of biological system behavior by mutation of its genetic code. With extremely rapid progress of synthetic biology field many ethical concerns and questions are raised. They must be addressed to scientific as well as lay public.