Safety/Do not Release

Do Not Release Policy

On this page you will find: What should I do? and What actions count as "release"?.

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. In general, iGEM teams should not release or deploy any engineered organisms, or the products of engineered organisms, outside the lab.

Any teams that release their engineered organisms, or products of their engineered 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.

What should I do?

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 sensitive issue in some parts of the world. 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!

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!)

What actions count as "release"?

If you engineer an organism in the lab, you may not deliberately release it outside the lab, even inside a "containing" device.

You may be able to get permission to test something produced by an engineered organism, if you can demonstrate that the product has no modified organisms on or in it. Please contact safety [AT] igem [DOT] org setting out what you would like to do, and why you believe that there will be no modified organisms present.

You need permission from the Safety and Security Committee before any of your product leaves the lab or comes into contact with any humans, including yourselves. This includes if you want to bring your product to the Giant Jamboree. You will need to apply to show your product at the Exhibition Space.

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 onto or into a human body, including your own. Engineered organisms you make should never come into direct contact with humans.
  • Taking the products of your GMOs outside of the lab without advance permission from the Safety and Security Committee. "Products" includes any chemicals that your GMOs might synthesize, even if you purify them. This also covers bringing them to the Giant Jamboree.
  • 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.)
  • Transporting cells or DNA between two labs, in proper packaging, for research or teaching purposes
  • Releasing software or hardware
  • Testing the product of your engineered system outside of the lab with advance permission from the Safety and Security Committee (see the 2018 NUS Singapore-A team for an example)
  • Bringing the product of your engineered system to show at the Exhibition Space at the Giant Jamboree, with advance permission from the Safety and Security Committee
  • 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.