Safe Project Design
We took the following decisions to reduce the risk of our project at the design stage.
- Use of non-pathogenic strains of E.coli, commonly used in laboratory settings (Potts, 2015)
- Ensured the availability of rigorous safety protocols for use of biological organisms
- Explored safety measures in filter system from start (e.g. UV light to prevent organisms entering the environment)
Safe Lab Work
Not all the team members had experience in labs, so all microbiological lab work was supervised by at least one member of staff.
In addition, all members of the team without previous experience in a lab took part in a 'Bootcamp week' organised by our PIs. This week included:
- Lab introduction
- COSHH forms
- Emergency protocols
- Aseptic techniques
- Using the designated area for electrophoresis
- Handling waste
- Handling toxic chemicals
Routine safety procedures
We worked in a microbiological lab, safety category 2 that covers work with agents associated with human disease, pathogenic or infectious organisms posing a moderate hazard. Precautions taken were:
- Use of personal protective equipment
- Extreme caution when handling contaminated sharps
- Use of biosafety cabinet
- Sterilisation of glassware using Virkon
- Appropriate storage of chemicals
We visited the Wheal maid site which is a mine waste water site and collected samples from the contaminated site. Various precautions were taken, including:
- Wearing nitrile gloves, waterproof jackets and wellies
- Filtering and sealing water samples in sample bottles using sterile syringes
Application Safety Issues
If our genetically modified E. coli was used in the final filter product it could create some safety issues. E. coli is therefore only being used as a chassis and as a proof of concept.
Further studies should be conducted to apply our concept to one of the naturally occurring organisms found thriving in mine waste water habitat conditions.
There are likely to be concerns surrounding the chance of escape of these bacteria into the local environment. To reduce the potential of this occurring, there are stages within our filter system that will destroy any bacteria entering and leaving the filter. We planned to use either UV sterilisation or copper-alginate beads or a combination of both.
COSHH forms were available for all procedures carried out during our project. All team members read and signed these at the start of the summer.
Additional COSHH forms were completed for procedures that were part of the field trip to Wheal Maid. These include the following:
- Travelling to and from the site
- Sampling at the site (protocol, risk assessment )
- Analysing the samples (Standard Operating Procedures for ICP-OES, Diluting acids used in SOP, Handling metal ion standard solution used in SOP )
-  Potts, C. (2015). Statement of nonpathogenicity. [PDF]. Available at: https://www.thermofisher.com/content/dam/LifeTech/global/technical-reference-library/cloning/pdfs/statement-of-nonpathogenicity.pdf