The term “synthetic biology” is becoming more and more popular every year, but for bioengineering to become more accepted in society, it is necessary to show its safety. As researchers working in synthetic biology, we kept biosafety in mind at all stages of the projects.

Laboratory Safety

iGEM UTokyo team conducted experiments in compliance with the safety and security policies of the iGEM competition.
We experimented in a biosafety level 1 laboratory. Before starting the lab work, the team members underwent training from lab members with long research experience and learned how to dispose of GMOs contaminated materials. Furthermore, after the lab work started, we made sure that the experiments were conducted in the presence of the lab members to prevent GM organisms from leaking out of the lab. We also made sure to submit weekly experiment plans to the lab to confirm whether the experiments went safely. When we did operations that we did not normally do (ex. Waste disposal for halo assays), we consulted the lab members to get advice. The team members who performed the experiments took turns every day but to ensure biosafety during the operations regardless of the members in the lab, team members more familiar with lab work were always present in the lab. We also shared biosafety tips with all team members to avoid problems that threatened safety. In the experimental operations, biosafety cabinets were used to prevent GM yeast leakage and contamination of the lab, and we always performed autoclaving of the substances with GM organisms. We separated liquid waste from yeast and E. coli to ensure proper processing for each species. In addition to measures to avoid leakage of GMOs, we also took precautions such as wearing latex gloves to minimize the risk of exposure to chemical substances.

Project safety

We selected Saccharomyces cerevisiae as the chassis and used Escherichia coli JM109 competent cells for HBD3 antimicrobial activity assays. Both are low pathogenic organisms of the risk group 1. However, we transformed the yeast to secret HBD3, an antimicrobial protein. If HBD3-secreting yeast leaked into the environment, they would have an advantage against bacteria because of its antimicrobial activity. HBD3-secreting yeast could spread quickly in the environment and adversely affect the bacterial flora. To prevent this, we used a technique to confine the GM organisms. The cell fiber was made of a material permeable to small molecules and impermeable to large molecules such as cells. These characteristics enabled us to achieve the project goals and provide biosafety.


In this years’ activities, there were many alarming situations other than handling GM organisms, such as the infection of COVID-19.
To prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19 and reduce the risk of making serious problems in the lab, we limited the number of people who engaged in the lab experiment to three per day following the criteria set by our PI. We also avoided going to a meal after iGEM experiments to prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19.