Safe Project Design
The target of our diagnostic test, the tapeworm Taenia solium is in itself a pathogenic organism to humans. However, in our project no infectious tapeworm samples were used. We designed our sensors based on published transcriptome data (Tsm) or previously known antigens (Tso_31).
Our day-to-day laboratory work involved working with synthetic nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) that are not associated with disease in humans – these sequences were containing only fragments of nucleic acid with no risk of infection or unintended/harmful gene expression. The use of standardized protocols for DNA preparation, PCR or cell-free expression furthermore ensured that ingestion, inoculation or contact with mucous membranes or non-intact skin was avoided.
To reduce any further risks, we tried to refrain from using potentially toxic chemicals whenever there were alternatives. As an example, we decided against using ethidium bromide dye for argarose gels. Instead, RotiSafe, a non-toxic alternative dye for nucleic acids in agarose gels was used. Whenever it was not possible to replace a potentially harmful chemical, we conducted handling of these substances underneath a fume hood.
Safe Lab Work
TFor our project we used a Biosafety Level 1 (BSL1) Laboratory. This represents a basic level of containment with fume hoods and designated work places for bacterial transformations in order to reduce contamination risks.
Before starting any wet lab work, all team members had to get an instruction on general lab safety held by PI Prof. Dr. med. Markus Schülke. This instruction covered all necessary information concerning wet lab safety, emergency actions and building security.
We adapted basic safety habits such as:
- Washing hands upon entering and prior to leaving the laboratory
- Wearing personal protection, such as nitrile gloves and laboratory coat.
- Tieing back hair and wearing long trousers.
- Drinking and eating was not allowed at any time inside the laboratory
In collaboration with our Indian partners, we ensured that an understanding on safety standards was reached. When our partners sent tapeworm material obtained through screening, only isolated RNA fragments (non-infectious, non-pathogenic) were transported with a certified courier company.