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Safety Concerns

This page is used to address the questions posed on the iGEM Safety page:

  • Would any of your project ideas raise safety issues in terms of researcher safety, public safety, or environmental safety?

Environmental safety is a huge concern for us. Just as we don't want toluene soil contamination finding its way into water supplies, we don't want our device replicating in the environment when its job of metabolizing the toluene is done, or if it migrates away from the toluene contamination. That's why we are engineering toluene-sensitive suicide mechanisms into our device to destroy it in the absence of toluene. Before it can actually be used for environmental cleanup, we would like to engineer a series of redundant kill switches to cover the possibility of loss-of-function mutations in any of the kill-switch mechanisms.

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

On a national level, our project would need oversight by the EPA and perhaps other governmental regulatory agencies. On a more local scale, we had a conversation with Dr. Mike Imperiale from the U of M Medical School Department of Microbiology and Immunology about biosafety and biosecurity, and where he thought synthetic biology is and will be going in terms of biosafety and biosecurity.

  • What does your local biosafety group think about your project?

Mike applauded our efforts at reinforcing the biosafety of our device with engineered kill-switches, but stressed the need to address biosecurity issues along with biosafety. We went through our parts and concluded that there are no major biosecurity concerns with our device as it stands, though it would be conceivable to reverse the toluene degradation pathway and thus manufacture a toxic substance.

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

Considering that the main environmental biosafety concerns with our device lie in actually introducing it to the environment, and that the parts we have submitted this year do not comprise the entire completed device, we feel that none of our parts raise any significant biosafety issues.

Here is a link to a paper that we discussed during our meeting with Dr. Mike Imperiale.