Safe Project Design
Escherichia coli (E.coli) is known to the public to be a pathogenic bacterium, and as such carries a negative association when mentioned to members of the public. However, the strain of E. coli we worked with in the labs, DH5a, was a strain developed exclusively for laboratory research, and as such, isn’t pathogenic and carries minimal risk. We also worked with a mammalian cell line, Human Embryonic Kidney Cells (HEK cells) and extra safety precautions were taken to ensure safety when working with this type of cell, as discussed further down. Overall, due to the strain of E. coli we worked with in both our project and the interlab study, there was minimal risk involved with our project. Nevertheless, extra precaution was taken to ensure that lab work was carried out in a professional manner, remaining attentive towards safety of all those in the lab.
Safe Labratory Practice
Although the strain of E. coli we were working with was non-pathogenic, we still remained attentive to the safety of all those who were inside the lab at all times. Coupled with any potential (albeit small) risk that the bacteria posed, there was also a risk of injury from the equipment used, such as the autoclave machine, desktop centrifuge, and bunsen burner. To ensure that no injury was caused, thorough risk assessments were made before handling any piece of equipment that could present danger to those inside the lab, and precautions were taken to ensure no injuries occurred, for example turning the Bunsen to a yellow flame when not in use to make it more visible and turning it off altogether when nobody was in the lab. Another example would be using heatproof gloves when handling hot equipment from the autoclave machine, and ensuring that the desktop centrifuge was balanced before turning it on.
To minimise any risk of contamination from working with the bacteria, stringent lab etiquette was followed. Whenever working with bacteria, sterile technique was used, working around a Bunsen burner on a roaring blue flame, and wearing protective lab gear (lab coat, protective gloves, and glasses when necessary), as well as wearing appropriate footwear and having any long hair tied up. Any potentially contaminated equipment such as pipette tips and Eppendorf tubes that had bacteria or bacterial media in them were placed into a biohazard bin bag. At the end of each day, the bag was sealed off, and sent off for autoclaving by the laboratory’s technical services.
The school of bioscience prohibits the consumption of any food or drink in the laboratory, and this was stringently followed throughout the lab project. We were given a safety induction before starting by the head of technical services for the school of bioscience of the University of Kent, and the safety protocols for the school were followed with care for the duration of our time in the labs.
In the latter part of our project, we worked with mammalian cells, and as such we had to follow a stricter safety protocol than normal. For this work, we worked in a level 2 biosafety lab, receiving instruction and mentorship from Dr. Emma Hargreaves, a member of the school of biosciences who is familiar with working in these conditions. All the work was done under a sterilised hood, and stringent sterile technique was followed to minimise risk and ensure safe practice in these conditions.