A Safe iGEM Season

Research is an endeavour involving risks by its very nature. In order to ensure a safe iGEM season for the whole team and prevent incidents, we created a safe working environment through the implementation of multiple safety concepts for both laboratory work and the COVID-19 pandemic. We followed the safety guidelines provided by the iGEM committee at all times. This involved the assessment of all risks of our wet lab procedures prior to practical work, such as the work with genetically modified organisms, potentially hazardous chemicals, and equipment, like hypodermic needles. Additionally, lab safety instructions were provided by our PIs prior to the start of practical work, as part of the laboratory safety concept by the university of Marburg, which we adhered to at all times. Every member was equipped with protective equipment consisting of a lab coat and safety goggles. Disposable gloves were available at every working station. Additionally, instructions were provided for proper operation of technical devices.

Safe Genetic Engineering

The OpenPlast project included work with S1 (German Biosafety Level 1) approved organisms, such as four E. coli strains (Top10, NEB Turbo, NEB stable, DH5 alpha) and the genetic modification of N. tabacum plants. All E. coli strains are derived from fitness-deficit strain K12, which makes a successful escape improbable. The safety of these strains has been well-documented for decades [1] . Nevertheless, care was given to prohibit escape of the bacteria. The genetically modified plants are wildtype and thus viable outside the lab. Therefore, extra attentiveness was given to eliminate any change of accidental release. Work involving S1 organisms was entirely carried out in permitted S1 or S2 laboratories and following the S1 regulations.

Safe Synthetic Biology

All parts utilised or designed during this project are on the iGEM whitelist or the necessary applications submitted. To prevent the spread of resistances against the antibiotics used, we assure that their responsible use has been the basis of the carried out laboratory work. In addition to that, we are certain of the absence of risk to humanity and the environment, for all our parts and constructs. Our project is in line with all safety requirements given by the iGEM competition.

COVID-19 Procedures

This year, our safety precautions consisted of yet another point. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic proved itself as a challenge, not only for the world, but also for the preparations and the course regarding the 2021 competition. To both ensure the safety of our team in regards to the pandemic, we have created and implemented a customised OpenPlastCovid concept, in accordance with COVID-19 rules set by the government. This involved holding team meetings online, wearing masks both in the lab and during meetings, practising social distancing, conducting regular covid testing, and following all safety guidelines in the lab spaces. Thus, we have followed the European guidelines for hygiene as well as the guidelines provided by the Federal Republic of Germany, from the State of Hessia and the City of Marburg. Prior to our decision to change meetings from online to in-person and organise offline team building activities, we closely monitored the changes of situation and guidelines and imposed the german covid-rules designated for public spaces, for all team activities. As such, only persons who were vaccinated, recovered or tested were allowed to attend in-person. We provided the option to join all meetings online, to further reduce risk of infection with other transmittable diseases, like the cold. Once vaccinations were available to all, we even decided as a team to tighten the rules to further decrease the possibility of infection. As such we only allowed vaccinated or recovered in-person attendees. This decision was made unanimously, it was important for us that all members had the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding in-person meetings.

Not only was safety number one priority during our work, our whole project is centred around making the world a safer place. Learn more about why engineering chloroplasts is a great way to ensure biocontainment of GMO crops!

Read more about Biocontainment

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  1. Andreas Peter Bauer, Sarah Maria Dieckmann, Wolfgang Ludwig, Karl-Heinz Schleifer, Rapid identification of Escherichia coli safety and laboratory strain lineages based on Multiplex-PCR, FEMS Microbiology Letters, Volume 269, Issue 1, April 2007, Pages 36–40,