Safety training was according to different German regulations, namely (I) General lab safety, (II) Special regulation concerning hazardous substances, (III) Special regulations concerning biological substances, and (IV) Regulations concerning genetic engineering.
The requirements include an initial on site training that has to be confirmed by a personal signature. The training has to be refreshed annually. All regulations are accessible in the intranet.
Local Rules and Regulations
Our team advisors are responsible for all issues related to Biological safety in the labs that we use. Therefore, they are initimately involved in the biosafety considerations of our project. The iGEM student project was generally discussed with our primary PI, Prof. Jörn Kalinowski.
For more information, please refer to the Instruction manual GenTSV (S1), the Instruction manual GefStoffV, and the
Risks of Our Project and Organisms
We are mainly working with safety strains of E.coli (K-12 derivatives) which are only toxic if they are injected into the blood stream. It would also be problematic if these E. coli strains make contact with the eyes. Oral exposition could change the bacterial population in the gut by delivering new DNA features. Lab safety training included safe handling regulations, mandatory lab coats and eye protection equipment during the work with bacteria.
The definition of biosafety level 1 says that there is no risk according to the current scientific knowledge if everything is done properly. The usage of safe E. coli strains should prevent any risks for the general public. DNA molecules from our strains could be transferred into other bacteria if genetically modified organisms escape the lab. The biggest problems are the antibiotic resistances, because they could be transferred to human pathogenic species. The impact of this problem is reduced by the fact that all resistance genes are already out there. Our lab safety trainings also included instructions on waste disposal requirements for normal and hazardous lab material as well as biologicals or lab materials contaminated by biologicals. All genetically engineered strains and material contaminated with such organisms require sterilization by autoclaving. Afterwards the sterilized material is subjected to garbage incineration. Special decontamination rules regulate hazardous chemicals and materials contaminated with such. The proper disposal of these is handled by the Department of Chemistry at our university. It would be possible to combine all our antibiotic resistances in one pathogenic organism to use it for bioterrorism purposes. We think, that the specific parts and constructs of our project and all possible combinations of these do not have an increased potential for malicious miss-use.
There are several levels of security measures. First of all, there is a personalized electronic access system for all labs, allowing a fine-grained restriction of access and a tracking of all access activities by the authorities of Bielefeld University.
In addition, the mandatory lab safety trainings and the continuous surveillance of measures provides the second level of safety regulation. Next, there is the need for a detailed documentation of all experimental work, including all levels of accidents. Last but not least, an atmosphere of responsible planning and conduct is pursued by all scientists, including the instructors and supervisors of the iGEM projects.
Future Risks of Our Project
The single parts of our project are in our opinion almost free of risks. This is implied by their biosafety level classification. We do not expect them to interact in a way which could increase these risks or provide unforseeable ones. As stated above, we are planning to develop inbuilt safety systems, instantly killing the strain upon release from its containment. In addition, the last years iGEM team had started to develop an antibiotics-free selection system and we worked on the improvement of this biosafety system.