Project Safety

Team Newcastle 2009 iGEM 14-09-09 IMG 1136.JPG

Below are our responses to the four questions posed by the iGEM judges:

1. Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of:

Researcher Safety

Work with E. coli and Bacillus can be done under Class I microbiological safety regulations in the UK. The E. coli strains we used are harmless, and B. subtilis is also considered to be harmless, and is, in fact, used in large quantities in the food industry. We were careful to follow the microbiological safety rules laid down in our department. However, cadmium is a toxic metal. There are regulations and restrictions for working with heavy metals. To test our cadmium sensor device BBa_K174015, these regulations would have to be followed, although we did not get to this point. The UK Government's guidance for working with cadmium are at: HSE's guidance.

For the duration of the project, the team have been working in the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences (iCaMB) (Newcastle University) who have drawn up rules for all lab workers to adhere to. To read a summary of the rules compiled by iCaMB, please click on this link. There was a full version of this document which can be found on iCaMB's website however this information is only available to on-campus students and staff. We made sure we were familiarised with all of these rules

Public Safety

Our project is about sequestering cadmium into inert spores. Spores are extremely resiliant bodies, able to withstand extremes of temperature, mechanical and enzymatic conditions. Once cadmium is immobilised in spores which are unable to germinate, the toxic metal should no longer provide a hazard to the environment. Even if consumed, germination-deficient spores will pass unchanged through the human alimentary canal. However, there may be a small risk from cadmium bound to the surface of the spore, which may leach from metallathionin-cotC fusion. Implementation of the project would require a period of time in which this leaching process could occur before the public was exposed to the spores.

Environmental Safety

Although B. subtilis is non-pathogenic, the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment has been a contentious issue since the 1970s. There are numerous reviews which discuss the issues relating to the safety of introducing genetically engineered organisms into systems such as soil. One of our intructors (Anil Wipat) studied issues relating to the release of genetically engineered microorganisms into the soil as part of his PhD [1]. Many systems have been proposed to try to ensure the safety of GM organisms in the environment. For example, engineered systems can be introduced in suicide vectors which fail to maintain outside a contained area, thus preventing the spread of the genetically engineered sequence. Such measures could be employed by our project to enhance the safety of cadmium-sequestering strains to be released into contaminated sites.

2. Is there a local biosafety group, committee, or review board at your institution?

There is an active biosafety committee within the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biosciences. Our lab was reviewed during the period in which we were working on the project.

3. What does your local biosafety group think about your project?

The local safety officer came to visit us, and did not see any problems with the project. She emphasized the need for good microbiological practice and lab cleanliness. We are required, amongst other things, to use lab coats at all times, and follow the "Michael Jackson Rule": when carrying gels through the corridors from the lab to the imager, wear only one glove, keeping the other hand uncontaminated to open doors, etc. Sadly, we were unable to use cadmium to test our system.

4. Do any of the new BioBrick parts that you made this year raise any safety issues?

We can see no issues with any of the bricks.

If yes, did you document these issues in the Registry?


[1] Wipat, A. (1990). Release and detection of geneticaly engineered streptomycetes in soil. Unpublished PhD thesis, Microbiology DEpartment, John Moores University.



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