Duke iGEM and COVID-19

We fully acknowledge and understand the circumstances in limited lab access brought by current COVID situations, and tightly adhere to related Duke policies to ensure the safety and health of all wet lab members actively engaged in hands-on experiments. Specifically, we paid attention to the following aspects to make sure we conduct research in a safe, healthy environment:

  • All members wore masks all times when in the lab.
  • No more than 10 people were present in the lab space at the same time to ensure 6 feet social distancing requirements were met.
  • Lab shift spreadsheets were created to document and track the personnels attending the wet lab on a specific day.
  • No food or drink were allowed in the lab.

Safe Lab Practices

Given the hazardous nature of some of the organisms and reagents used in synthetic biology research, the Duke iGEM team closely followed general lab safety protocols, which included the following:

  • Safety training and certification through Duke OESO (which included general lab safety training, BSL-2 training, and other relevant topics).
  • Upkeep and maintenance of relevant safety equipment in the lab, including safety showers and eye wash stations.
  • Leaving all food and water outside of the lab and refraining from eating and drinking in lab.
  • Safely disposing of hazardous materials, like Sybr Safe or broken glass, into proper containers.
  • Proper usage of personal protective equipment, such as gloves and lab coats, at all times.
  • Maintaining a open line of communication with advisors and lab managers regarding any concerns with safe lab practice.

Additionally, because we worked with E. coli and human stem cells throughout our project, we made sure to follow safety procedures that were relevant to biosafety level 2 environments. This included the following:

  • Always handling biological samples using the Class A2 laminar flow biosafety cabinet that was in the lab.
  • Using commercially available E. coli strains that have been selected for low pathogenicity.
  • Adhering to proper waste disposal protocols; this meant ensuring that all materials utilized in bacterial or cellular culture work were properly bleached or autoclaved before regular trash disposal.
  • Keeping cell culture flasks within a separately designated cell incubator that had clear biohazard indications on the door.

Safety and Security of Implementation

The iGEM team also considered some of the safety concerns that would need to be addressed during the ultimate real-world implementation of our device. We envision that our products will be mostly applied in a clinical research setting, with an extremely low chance of being introduced into the environment. We acknowledge, however, that there will be a possibility that the final product we deliver will be assessed to pose a potential threat when in contact with the outside environment, and a kill-switch will be implemented on the system upon need. Our guiding principle is that we will limit our products from contacting the environment as much as possible, and if contact is necessary, an intrinsic kill-switch will be installed to prevent escape of recombinant DNA.

Figure 1. Duke iGEM Workspace Lab

Figure 2. Duke iGEM Workspace Lab

Figure 3. Duke Biosafety Cabinet