Safety/Do not Release

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Do Not Release Policy

iGEM teams often do projects that have an immediate practical application. But within the context of the iGEM competition, wet-lab projects should remain at an experimental stage. iGEM teams should not release or deploy any genetically modified organisms, or the products of genetically modified organisms, outside the lab.

Any teams that release their genetically modified organisms, or products of their genetically modified organisms, will be referred to the Responsible Conduct Committee.

Instead of aiming toward release, we encourage you to focus on producing the best laboratory results.

Keep Your Activities Legal: In most countries, it is illegal to release GMOs or their products into the natural environment without extensive government permits and approvals. Obtaining these permits and approvals would probably take longer than the entire iGEM competition. Instead, you should focus your efforts on producing the best laboratory results. (And, of course, you should not release your GMOs illegally!)

Be a Responsible Scientist: There are many extremely complicated risks involved in releasing a genetically modified organism (GMO) outside the lab. Without extensive testing, you cannot know if your GMO is safe for humans and the environment. It would be dangerous, even reckless, to release a GMO without the proper risk assessment and testing.

Also, releasing GMOs is a huge international controversy. Because of this controversy, when synthetic biologists seem to act recklessly, they can damage the reputation of the whole field of synthetic biology. As iGEM team members, you are ambassadors between scientists and the public, so it is important that you be excellent scientific citizens!

What actions count as "release"?

If you genetically modify an organism in the lab, you may not deliberately release it outside the lab, even inside a "containing" device. You also may not release any chemicals synthesized by a genetically modified organism, even if you purify the chemicals so that no living organisms remain.

The following examples should clarify what counts as "release" or "not release":

Release Not Release
  • Putting your GMOs into the natural environment (soil, lakes, oceans, forests, etc.)
  • Putting your GMOs into a human body
  • Putting the products of your GMOs into the natural environment, or a human body. "Products" includes any chemicals that your GMOs might synthesize, even if you purify them.
  • Putting your GMOs (or their products) into a containing device, and then putting that containing device into the natural environment
  • Eating food made using your GMOs (bread, beer, etc.)
  • Bringing your GMOs or their products to the Jamboree. This includes any biological material, including synthetic DNA.
  • Submitting part samples to the Registry, according to the submission guidelines.
  • Transporting cells or DNA between two labs, in proper packaging, for research or teaching purposes
  • Releasing software or hardware
  • Performing a field experiment using a wild-type organism (see TU-Munich 2013 for an example)
  • Disposing of sterilized lab waste

Are you unsure?

Email safety AT igem DOT org. We can advise you about whether your experiment counts as "release", and help you think of alternate experiments that are more appropriate for iGEM.

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